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The Europe of the Citizens: AGORA 2007

pdf mise en ligne :22 11 2007

LIBRE CIRCULATION DES PERSONNES > Perspectives financières

This year, to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the European Parliament has opened up a new forum for dialogue with EU citizens: the Agora.

The European Parliament wants not just to communicate with citizens, but genuinely to consult them, because vitalising European integration requires a strong and permanent link with EU citizens. It is not enough to tell people that Europe is being built for them, Europe needs to be built with them.  Citizens, who act as protagonists, rather than just consumers, may not only transform the nature of the exercise, but also its aims. 

The name “Agora” is a tribute to the first public debating forum established by Athenian "direct" democracy, which is at the root of our European democracy. What the Parliament proposes here is to combine the best aspects of direct democracy, by mobilising European civil society representatives, such as networks of associations, professional organisations and trade unions, with representative democracy, as embodied at European level by the European Parliament.

The Agora, as a forum, would give its participants an opportunity to define the terms of European debate and to come up with concrete policies, based on everyday experience, to tackle the problems facing the Union. It is a "pre-legislative" tool, and it will work during the drafting of reports and prior to their adoption in parliamentary committees, so it could also help build consensus. 

The Agora will be held in the European Parliament's hemicycle in Brussels every six months. In this session, 400 representatives from across Europe were presents at the European Parliament. It was organised in three phases:
a) preparation and drafting of the working documents with the help of the Agora web site;
b) two-day debates in the Parliament, with a record of the debates drawn up;
c) dissemination of the results to all parties.

Opening the first meeting last Thursday 8 November 2007, EP President Hans-Gert Pöttering hailed it as a "special day". Welcoming the assembled guests to the Plenary Chamber in Brussels he underlined the shared values of the European Union and said that as the Parliament is the only directly elected EU Institution, it had a right to hold the event. German Socialist Jo Leinen said that "this discussion is never going to end" and that the "democratic structure needs top be developed". 

The opportunities and challenges of the new Reform Treaty formed the basis of the two plenary debates and workshops held over the two days. Each Agora meeting debate was wound up by two moderators, one chosen among MEPs or representatives from other EU Institutions, and the other from the invited organisations. By contrast, the rapporteurs in charge of drawing up workshop conclusions was instead chosen only from among the 400 civil society members. Rapporteurs was initially responsible for preparing a discussion document before the meeting takes place, with the help of the contributions sent by the participants on the Agora web site. 

Moreover, they took charge of preparing a single recto-verso page paper summing up the consensus or the range of options that emerged from the discussions. These papers are the official conclusions of the Agora and will be therefore taken into consideration by the Parliament.

The workshop were five:
1 - Tasks -
This workshop look at the role of civil society commenting on tasks arising from new areas of competences in the Lisbon Treaty.
2 - Rights -
The European Union is to establish new rights.
3 - Tools -
The European Union is to acquire new tools, new Challenges and Innovations to strength citizens' rights.
4 - Borders -
The borders of the Union have never been clearly defined. But experience has shown that this uncertainty creates fears inside the Union. Yet the borders should not be cut in stone once and forever but include certain flexibility according to changing political situations in an unpredictable future.
5 - Horizons -
The European Union is to agree on an institutional compromise in order to break the deadlock in certain areas.  

During each workshop the debates were very heated and the participants intervened to emphasize their points of view. After the debates, every representatives of workshop have read the conclusions to the public of the Plenary Chamber.

CONCLUSIONS 

Workshop Tasks (DE) (EN) (FR)
The areas of most interest like the social dimension, climate protection and energy as well as migration were well covered. The unifying theme of this workshop has been the solidarity. A human vision in a range of policy areas in terms of combating discrimination, developing asylum policy, and remaining consistent in its internal and external policies.

Migration: The workshop looked at questions of solidarity and support for migrants rather than sanctions and more secure borders. There is a need to strengthen the cooperation with and in the Mediterranian region and develop partnerships with African countries. 
Social policy: Majority of citizens are in favour of more social policy at a European level and propose the transformation of the EU from an economic to a social union. Some felt that social policy should remain the responsibility of national government due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.
Climate and energy: Europe has an important role globally to help minimise social and environmental costs associated with energy production and also water management.

Workshop rights (DE) (EN) (FR)
The European institutions must therefore adopt working methods that take systematic account of the real lives of people within the Union and, prior to taking any decisions, systematically assess the impact of those decisions on the population. Then it requires the implementing of Charter of Fundamental Rights:
- All European legislations must be based on and ensure an effective implementation of the transversal clauses and the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
- Gender equality must be considered as a fundamental principle of organising society.
- Bolstering of the competence and resources that the European fundamental rights Agency needs to be able to play an efficient role. With regard to Member States, the role of the agency could be to support a close monitoring of the human rights’ record of Member States and accession countries.

Workshop tools (DE) (EN) (FR)
A large number of participants were in favour of granting competence to the European Parliament to organise EU-wide consultative referenda on European matters. Having regard to these treaty innovations, and to ever-growing global challenges, the role and place of civil society equally has to evolve in the context of European citizenship.
Some participants supported the idea of directly electing, in a separate vote, the President of the European Commission by universal suffrage at the same time with the European Parliament elections. Besides the workshop proposed the creation of several instruments whose objectives would be to reach out to the citizens in a more effective way, and at the same time strengthen the European public space. Amongst these we emphasise the following:
- An interactive website in which citizens could participate in debates related to ongoing legislative processes and activities of the European Union.
- Work on developing civic education and introducing decentralized pluralistic information and involvement.
- Strengthening all instruments which guarantee transparency.
- Formulation by 2009 of a Declaration on European Citizenship by the European Parliament, with the assistance of the Citizens' AGORA.
- Strengthening of the right of legislative initiative of the European Parliament, building on progress recently made in the Treaty of Lisbon.

Workshop borders (DE) (EN) (FR)
The participants have spoken out strongly in favour of ratification of the Reform Treaty. They are convinced that the Treaty will improve the functioning of the European Union also in its external dimension. The borders of the Union have never been clearly defined. But experience has shown that this uncertainty creates fears inside the Union. Yet the borders should not be cut in stone once and forever but include certain flexibility according to changing political situations in an unpredictable future.
EU accession criteria and integration capacity: some participants have proposed to organise the neighbourhood policy with an approach of olympic rings, meaning that the EU would coordinate areas of collaboration with non-Member countries based on their geographical proximity and common interest.
European neighbourhood policy: Some people have understood that the neighbourhood policy is actually a tool to cooperate with countries that will not be Members of the EU. On the other part the neighbourhood policy may be used as a "waiting room" for countries not regarded at the moment as candidate countries.
EU in the world: The majority of the participants felt that the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the single integrated external service will provide a substantial improvement in the coordination, development and coherence of the common external policy.

Workshop horizons (DE) (EN) (FR)
There is a demand for more information about Europe that is not being met by the media. Efforts must be made to convince them of the existence of this need, and therefore of the benefits of informing their respective audiences in a way that is adapted to each of them.
But information must be adapted to the targets (kids, students, journalits, searchers …) and the dissemination must be proactive using participative web tools such as wiki, RSS feeds, email mailings…
Presently EU websites are full of relevant information but not easy to find. The access to the documents must be improved and presented in a more thematic way (not by Institution which is not very relevant for the end-users).
To continue the AGORA, an online tool such as a moderated wiki could be implemented.

 

Lucia SIRIGNANO
University Institute "
Orientale" of Naples

PERSPECTIVES