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The Europe of Citizens: AGORA 2008

pdf mise en ligne :07 07 2008 ( NEA say… n° 52 )

LIBRE CIRCULATION DES PERSONNES > Perspectives financières

12th and 13th June 2008The European Parliament hosted the 2nd Citizens’ Agora devoted to climate change.

The Citizens’ Agora, as the Athenian Agora in the past, is a public place of meeting and debate, launched and supported from the European Parliament for the first time in November 2007.

The Agora 2007 offered 400 representatives of civil society the opportunity to discuss within the Parliament building about the future of Europe. Conceived and proposed as a new and not yet established tool in the european institutional architecture, the Agora provides an animated space, where representative democracy and participatory democracy work together opened to dialogue and collaboration.

Thanks to the successful results of the previous experience, on 12th and 13th June 2008 the European Parliament organised, still in a testing phase, a new CitizensAgora: an enlarged number of representatives of civil society (500 in comparison to the 400 guests of the first forum) was invited and asked to express their points of view, fears and suggestions about one of the major challenges of our society: climate change.  

The European Union is very attentive to the threat represented by climate change and aware of the need to act, taking appropriate and drastic decisions in order to tackle the impact on the planet.  

The EU position in the international efforts against climate change is prominent: it had a key role in the development of the two major treaties on the issue, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and the relative Kyoto Protocol  in 1997.   

Therefore the contribution of the Citizens’ Agora on climate change is part of a global discussion: on the one hand it is set between two decisive international meetings adressing the issue: the last World Climate Conference in Bali (2007) and the next United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenaghen (2009); on the other hand it plays an active role within the EU policy against climate change.  

Introduced from a Plenary Session, the Agora Forum was divided in five workshops on different themes held over the two days; a new Plenary Session concluded the Forum activities. 

12th June: Agora Plenary Session 

The 2nd Citizens’ Agora was opened in the Hemicycle of the European Parliament by the EP Vice-President Gérard Onesta, the “father” of the Agora, as he was often called. His intervention focused on the value of the Agora as a new tool for citizens to communicate their opinions about common themes and on its potential role for the future in the European institutional architecture.    The introduction of the Agora Forum also included the reference to the Irish Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty: according to the EU Vice- President the two events, fallen on the same date, represented on the one hand an important occasion of dialogue and meeting between civil society and institutions, on the other hand they also implied the risk of relying on citizens.  

To the presentation held by Gérard Onesta followed the interventions of Alejo Vidal Quadras, Vice-President of the European Parliament, and of Arnaldo Arbruzzini, Secretary General of the main European federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. After mentioning the success of the 1st Agora on the future of Europe, Mr. Quadras declared the priority of European Institutions to face climate change towards a low carbon economy. A new economic system supported from institutions, according to Mr. Abruzzini, is necessary to overcome the efficiency problem and create new opportunities. 

Afterwards Giudo Sacconi, Chairman of the European Parliament temporary Committee on Climate Change and Karl-Heinz Florenz, Rapporteur of the above-mentioned Committe introduced the state of play of the parlamentary work on climate. In Mr. Sacconi’s opinion the climate and energy crisis is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity for a deep change in ecomony and way of life, involving the active participation of citizens. The European Parliament works in this direction through the discussion of the legislative package, proposed by the European Commission in February 2008, 20 20 by 2020, Europe climate change opportunity. The package contains the following targets: 

·       a reduction of at least 20% in greenhouse gases by 2020 – rising to 30% if there is an international agreement.  

·       a 20% share of renewable energies in EU energy consumption by 2020.

In the meanwhile, asserted Mr. Florenz, the European Parliament temporary Committe on Climate Change is drafting a report on EU positions on climate change for the next United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenaghen.

After the explication of the EP position concerning Climate Change came the solemn declarations of the European Institutions: Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, introduced Climate Change as the greatest threat to the future of humanity; 90% of European citizens are worried about its concequences, therefore the need to involve them in an opened dialogue on the issue. Mentioning the American econimist Jeremy Rifkin, the EP President confirmed the EU driving role towards a Third Industrial Revolution and underlined the principle of solidarity among Member States and towards future generations. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Janez Podobnik, President of the Environment Council and Slovenian Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning, also asserted the necessity of operating towards a sustainable and low carbon economy. Dimitris Dimitriadis, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, focused on the impact that Climate Change had in August 2007 in Greece, his country, devastated by fires; he remembered the EU solidarity and strengthened the EU driving role in global change. Michel Delebarre, First Vice-President of the Committee of Regions, insisted on a better knowledge of territorial competences and requested European policies focused on the exploitation of their potential development.

To the over-mentioned declarations followed the interventions of three “key witnesses”: Jeremy Rifkin, economist and President of an international foundation for economic prospective; Jacqueline Mc Glade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency; Claude Lenglet, Director R&D of a global building and civil works group. The speakers presented their different points of views on the issue.

During his long and inspired intervention, Jeremy Rifkin proposed his solution to the problem related to resources, the so-called Third Industrial Revolution (see www.foet.org). This new Industrial Revolution is based on four pillars, four targets to reach through the EU leadership:

1.     the exploitation of renewable Energy (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean waves and biomass);

2.     the development of a new construction industry with buildings as positive power plants;

3.     the use of Hydrogen as universal medium to store all forms of renewable energy;

4.     the development, as the lines of the internet, of an energy smart intergrid.

Afterwards Jaqueline Mc Glade underlined the need to act on three levels: the international one (EU, Copenhagen 2009), the national one and the one of civil society, insisting on education towards a change of mentality; while Claude Leglet concluded as last speaker of the Agora Plenary Session, focusing the attention on a new construction industry.

12th and 13th June: working in progress...

The five Workshops and their conclusions

In order to have a cross-view of the issue the work of Agora Forum has been divided in five workshops; each one organised around a different topic and with the task of preparing a final recto-verso paper summing up the opinions emerged during the discussions.

1.     Workshop A: Resources- This workshop focused its attention on the problem of resources -fossil fuels, biodiversity, water, agrifuels- on their possibilities and limits.

After long and interesting discussions the workshop members reached a common position on the following points:

-        the necessity of a reduction of 30% instead of 20% in greenhouse gases by 2020;

-        new tools to develop renewable energy;

-        protection of resources and of their values;

-        nuclear energy as not renewable energy can not be a solution to the Climate Change.

► Link to final text (EN)

2.     Workshop B: Techniques- The workshop Techniques organised its discussion around the alternatives and the innovations within the process of production.

The debate underlined the importance of the following points:

-        more attention to education and information about the climate issue;

-        decentralized energy management;

-        new research programmes towards innovations.

Also the workshop Techniques asked for a target of 30% by 2020; on  the nuclear issue, the most debated, the participants could not find a common position.

► Link to final text (EN

3.     Workshop C: Solidarity- This workshop analysed the impact of Climate Change on more vulnerable peoples and the role of EU Institutions and civil society for a sustainable development.

The discussion focused on the following points:

-        the establishment of an “Ecosocial Partnership”;

-        education of civil society towards a low carbon economy;

-        traceability instruments for products;

-        the development of a European strategy on climate forced migration;

-        the facilitated appropriation of apt technologies by the developing countries through the adaptation of the legal framework on intellectual property rights.

► Link to final text (EN)

4.     Workshop D: Economies- The workshop Economies examined the possibility of new economic, financial and fiscal tools to minimize the impact of development on climate.

Also the workshop Economies asked for a reduction of 30% instead of 20% in greenhouse gases by 2020 and underlined the necessity to exploit this “transition” phase in order to create new economic chances through fiscal incentives.

► Link to final text (EN)

5.     Workshop E: Governance- The last workshop discussed the role of civil society in facing the Climate Change on the following issues:

-        more attention to environment within the education system;

-        the lauching of new solutions through the relationship between innovation and education;

-        the introduction of new production and consumption models;

-        the sanction of irregular production processes;

-        the promotion of intercultural dialogue.

► Link to final text (EN)

13th June: Plenary Session in conclusion... 

The Agora Forum was concluded by a Plenary Session, held by Gérard Onesta as representative of the European Institutions and by Henrik Kroner, Secretary General of a large movement for European integration, and Claire Roumet, Secretary General of the main European network for social housing, as representatives of the civil society.

The EU representative expressed his satisfaction for the high level of qualification of the civil society and for the attention payed to the issue of climate change.

The Agora experience, that in 2009 will not take place because of the EP elections, manifested the interest of Institutions in mantaining an opened dialogue with civil society, above all in a moment of negative trend as it is after the Irish “no” to the Lisbon Treaty, definitively announced during the Session.

The Vice-President of European Commission Günter Verheugen closed the Forum, underlining the importance of civil society contribution to the decision-making processes of the EU Institutions.

In conclusion only a question is left: in spite of the success of Agora, how will the EU overcome the gap, showed by the Irish referendum, between its policies and the citizens?


Enza Dammiano, Sara Dienstbier
Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”