European Union Platforms for Citizen Participation
by maxkortlander | 21 Nov, 2017
It’s long been a dream of the Internet to advance democratic processes—providing people with equal footing to give their voices and opinions, involving citizens in the legislative process, and making our elected and representative officials more accessible and accountable.
It can seem like such a utopian utilization of tech is far off. But despite political and technological limitations, there are already a lot of initiatives underway to use technology to facilitate citizen participation. And alongside these developments, citizens are increasingly using the internet to get in touch with their official representatives.
Graph from eGovernment in the European Union (PDF file). Data from EuroStat.
The European Union has created a series of online tools to allow citizens to participate in legislative processes, start and sign petitions, get in touch with their leaders, share their expertise, and engage in dialogues and consultations.
Unfortunately, this landscape of participatory digital tools can feel fragmented, difficult to understand, and unfamiliar to many European citizens. This document aims to clarify the different participatory platforms in the EU, providing information on where to find them and how to use them.
Legislation and Deliberation
Goal: Allow “EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies”
At its core, the EU Citizens' Initiative is a means for citizens to propose European legislation.
According to the platform’s website, “The European citizens' initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal.”
On this site, citizens can view successful initiatives, join current initiatives, or launch their own. To be considered by the EC, an initiative has to have at least one million signatures from EU citizens from at least seven different member states. Once an initiative reaches these thresholds, it will be examined by the European Commission within three months.
Goal: Allow EU citizens to view and respond to current initiatives
The Have Your Say page links to a list of current initiatives from across the EU. The Initiatives page allows people to view and search for existing initiatives in the EU. In most cases, there is the option for people to comment or respond to an initiative.
While this site looks very similar to the Consultations page, the two are different—consultations are open calls for discussions, while this page provides a list of initiatives (actions that are already underway) while also allowing people to give direct feedback on the particular initiative.
Goal: Make public consultations open and accessible to EU citizens
The Consultations page hosts all of the European Commission’s public consultations. It replaces the former “Your Voice in Europe” site.
On this page, people can search for public consultations, learn more about them, and respond.
Goal: Allow EU citizens to easily sign and start petitions
All European citizens have the fundamental right to communicate with Parliament and the right to petition, as upheld by the Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The European Parliament Petitions Webportal is the digital platform provided for citizens to submit directly to the EU Parliament’s Petitions Committee. However, not all petitions can be discussed by the Committee. “Many petitions are debated in committee meetings with the active participation of petitioners…Given the diverse nature of petitions, however, and the large number of petitions received, not all petitions are discussed in the Committee; members may choose to take decisions on them by means of a regular system of political scrutiny.”
The petitions require the name, nationality, and permanent address of the author, and must be signed.
Citizens can support an existing petition or start their own.
Goal: Provide an online space for citizens to discuss EU-related topics
Futurium was initially developed as an online space for European citizens to discuss digital topics. Now, the platform serves as a space for European citizens to discuss any topics related to the European Union.
Directorate-Generals from different fields of expertise actively engage with the platform to help answer to citizens’ ideas and suggestions. For each topic, there is a timeline showing how input will be gathered and discussed, and for what purpose.
People are invited to contribute on the platform in any EU language. They can also join groups to stay up-to-date and involved in topics of interest.
Goal: Allow citizens to track legislation at each stage of the lawmaking process
As the name implies, this site allows people to track Commission proposals. People can “track the lifecycle of a proposed new law, from the moment the Commission agrees on it, until the other EU institutions adopt it as the final law.”
The site also contains links to a number of other resources to view existing initiatives, examine recently published roadmaps and inception impact assessments, and learn about law-making processes.
Goal: Enable citizens to contribute their feedback to policy at every stage of the policymaking cycle
The site includes links to give feedback on Commission legislative proposals, participate in public consultations (Consultations page), respond to draft implementing and delegated acts (Initiatives), share opinions on how to improve existing laws (Lighten the Load).
In this way, the Contribute to Law Making site can be considered as a portal, directory, or informational gateway to many of the participatory tools that are noted in this document. However, this role is not stated, and the page does not include links to certain citizen participation sites, including Futurium and the Parliament Petitions webportal.
Goal: Allow EU citizens to interact in public with EU leaders and experts
This is not a portal for online discussion, but rather a list of live events. This list compiles citizen dialogue events across Europe, with various themes, topics, experts, and leaders. While these are physical events, many of them are accessible via a live streaming link on the webpage.
Law and Regulation
Goal: Reduce regulatory burden on citizens, corporations, and NGOs
Lighten the Load is an online portal where citizens, corporations, NGOs, and others are invited to share their opinions, insights, and suggestions about how to “improve laws and reduce regulatory burden.”
All suggestions that match the submission criteria are posted publicly, with users given the option to publish with their personal or organizational name, or anonymously. These suggestions are then reviewed by the REFIT Platform, consisting of stakeholders and EU representatives, for further consideration. REFIT may then choose to include these considerations within their recommendations as presented to the European Commission.
Goal: Provide recourse for citizens or businesses who “face extra obstacles in another country because a public authority isn’t doing what is required under EU law”
SOLVIT is an online service that businesses and citizens can turn to in cases of problems due to noncompliance with EU law. A physical SOLVIT centre is present in each EU country, but the service encourages online use. According to its website, “SOLVIT aims to find solutions within ten weeks.”
Goal: Develop a community of egovernance experts and practitioners
JoinUp is a platform particularly for egovernance community-building, information sharing, and promotion. Experts and practitioners may use the site to join groups related to a particular technology or subject. The site hosts hundreds of collections of tools and resources, including open software, APIs, code lists, and more.
Goal: Connect experts in public policy
SINAPSE offers “tools to promote a better use of expertise in EU policy making and governance.” The platform is intended for use by experts, advisory bodies, and commission officials.
SINAPSE allows users to join or create groups based on one’s field of expertise. The platform also requires members to use their real names in an attempt to “reproduce the way people traditionally exchange information.” However, users of the platform may also request confidentiality, and choose parameters for who has access to their published information.
Goal: Provide basic information about the EU
Europa is the official web portal of the European Union. It provides basic information about the EU and member countries, news and events updates, and links to official documents, publications, statistics, and open data. The site also has educational resources for children and teachers.
Goal: Provide relevant information for citizens and business regarding work, life, and travel within the EU
Your Europe is broken up into two sections: Help and advice for EU nationals and their family (Citizens); and Practical guide to doing business in Europe (Business).
The citizens page includes information and documents regarding travel, work & retirement, vehicles, residence, education & youth, health, family, and consumers. The business page offers information and documents regarding starting and growing a business, taxation, selling abroad, staffing, product requirements, finance & funding, public contracts, and environment.