Participatory democracy at the EU level: How to break the invisible ceiling?

Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Corina Stratulat

Observatory Report

EPC & EU Democracy Reform Observatory 03/2024

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Over the past decade, European democracy has been riding a deliberative wave. Given that deliberative processes create conditions for ordinary citizens to collectively explore and devise innovative solutions to complex societal challenges and questions, they have emerged as a potential answer to the growing and widespread public demand for meaningful participation and engagement in policymaking.

This Discussion Paper argues that it is necessary for the EU27 to confront the ongoing agglomeration of chronic and acute crises and highlights three mutually reinforcing structural impediments that need to be acknowledged and dealt with:

  1. Multiple fears at both the European and national levels regarding the potential consequences of a more participatory EU democracy for the inter-institutional balance of power between the different actors and tiers of governance.
  2. An imagination deficit to conceive new ways of thinking, which are necessary to formulate, promote, and implement systemic reforms, structural improvements, and an overall renewal of the Union's democratic system.
  3. Diverging views, perceptions, and positions regarding the potential role and limits of citizens' participation in EU policymaking, which in turn obstruct a concerted effort to modernise European democracy.

The paper also makes the case that the Union's existing participatory toolbox should be expanded to include four new instruments collectively supported and jointly organised by the European Commission, Parliament, and Council.

The paper was published in the context of the EU Democracy Reform Observatory, which is a joint initiative by Bertelsmann Stiftung, the European Policy Centre, the King Baudouin Foundation, and Stiftung Mercator. It aims to foster debate and discussion on modernising European democracy, providing recommendations on how to make EU democracy and decision-making more legitimate, participatory, and effective.

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