Develop and implement a comprehensive inter-institutional guidance for structured dialogue with civil society across all policy areas
Improve the accessibility and the impact of the European Citizens Initiative
Develop binding rules for delegating civil society members to the 3rd group of the EESC
Encourage consultation with and participation of civil society on the national and local levels
Monitor national-level consultation processes in the programming of EU funds under shared management
Civil society can only fully fulfil its democratic roles if its organisations have access to decision-makers and institutions and are able to convey their messages to them. While Art. 11. of the TEU lays down the basic principles of dialogue, and significant progress in implementation has been achieved in recent years (not least by including this mandate in the mission letter of the Commission Vice-President), civil society organisation still often find it difficult to access the institutions, and there is a documented bias towards business and public authorities.
Therefore, the Commission should initiate the development of an inter-institutional guidance for a system of open, inclusive, regular and structured dialogue between EU institutions (the Commission as a whole, individual DGs, the President and the Committees of the Parliament, the Council Presidency) and organised European civil society to ensure that policies and legislations are designed and implemented with their participation and contribution in the interest of the whole EU and its people. This should apply not only to specific sectors and pieces of concrete legislation, but should encompass horizontal and transversal issues (including budgetary issues), too, in their whole legislative cycle. The elements of this guidance should include
- the establishment of a dialogue focal point in each DG with specially trained staff (who ideally have first-hand experience in CSOs e.g. through internships),
- increasing the transparency of trialogue decision-making processes by making documents better available, and
- organising regular (high-level) sessions between the institutions and civil society representatives
- reviewing of composition of expert groups, advisory bodies and task forces in all EU institutions, especially in the European Council, to ensure fair representation of CSOs and balance influence based on commercial interests.
The modalities of such a dialogue (whom, when, where and how to access) should be publicly available, with contact points indicated. There should also be measures developed for cooperation between civil society and EU institutions in times of crises, as this need was highlighted by the past years’ events. The Representations in the Member States could play a role in bringing these consultations closer to the ‘ground’ i.e. to CSOs working on the local and national levels, by creating a network or infrastructure of dialogue ‘hubs”, therefore this should be included in their core tasks.
The recently concluded Conference on the Future of Europe should be carefully evaluated together with CSO networks (united under the umbrella of the Civil Society Convention for the Future of Europe) in terms of its representativeness, inclusiveness and processes, and its lessons should be incorporated in any similar potential future exercises, be them permanent or temporary. Similarly, improvements to the mechanisms of the European Citizens Initiative should be considered with special attention to measures that would facilitate a higher success rate for future initiatives.
A key instrument of direct communication between the Commission and representatives of civil society is the European Economic and Social Committee. However, in the absence of detailed criteria, the delegation of national representatives in the 3rd group is divergent across member states – in some cases civil society representatives are appointed by the national governments without any consultation or transparent selection process. Therefore, the Commission should propose to the EESC to develop a uniform regulation for a transparent and participatory system of delegating members of civil society (e.g. through an electoral system) including criteria guaranteeing their independence from governments. These guidelines should also cover the expectations regarding two-way communication between the members and their constituencies, mechanisms and guarantees of input by and feedback to local and national CSOs.
While structured dialogue on the EU level is very important also in terms of better popular support and ‘ownership’ of policies, CSO participation and engagement of course starts and is practiced first on the local level. To promote convergence in the levels of involvement across Member States, guidelines enabling meaningful contribution and increased transparency at all levels should be developed, e.g. that national budgets would not be approved without a process of open and inclusive civic participation. The Council of Europe Recommendations (CM/Rec(2018)4) on the participation of citizens in local public life provide a good basis in this respect.
In this respect, one specific area of interest is the use of EU funds under shared management by the Commission and Member State authorities. As public consultation on the national level is supposed to be an integral part of the programming process, the Commission should stringently monitor the actual implementation of this obligation and its outcomes, and step up in case of deficiencies, or where consultation was just a “tick-box exercise”. The consultations should be based on the principles of openness and inclusiveness, timeliness and continuity, transparency and accessibility, partnership and feedback.
1 See also: https://civilsocietyeurope.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Roadmap-to-Civil-Dialogue-in-the-EU.pdf