Two of the partners of the EuComMeet consortium – Université Paris 8 and Missions Publiques – were directly involved in the Conference on the Future of Europe as citizens panels’ observers and coordinators.
You will find below their reports on the experience.
For Missions Publiques, the experience of the Conference on the Future of Europe was one to remember! This last year, Missions Publiques has been at the heart of the design, implementation, and support of the European Citizens’ Panels and the citizen component of the Plenary, together with Ifok GmhB, Deliberativa and the Danish Board of Technology. We worked hand in hand with the steering body of this event, the Common Secretariat, which was appointed by the three institutions. It was a unique project, because of its length, its scope and the variety of actors involved, in a multilingual environment. It was a lengthy endeavor for us, but just as much for the citizens!
Although we cannot predict its exact impact, the first effects of the Conference are already visible: this unprecedented approach, both in terms of scale and methodology, has introduced a new participatory dynamic into what is often perceived as an ungraspable, complex institutional machine. We indeed succeeded to make 800 people from 27 countries meet and deliberate on sites and offline in a one-year process on 9 different topics.
Although the scale of this consultation and these panels were unparalleled, the approach built on years of innovation in the field of citizen participation, and many examples of citizen assemblies and panels. The Conference’s real democratic innovation lies in the last pillar: the Plenary Assembly. In most participatory processes, citizens formulate their recommendations and hand them over to decision-makers. Here, the Plenary was designed as an additional stage to allow for the co-construction of the final proposals. Following the citizens’ panels, the 108 citizens representing the European and national citizens’ panels worked hand in hand with representatives of civil society and members of the European institutions and national Parliaments for six weekends (not counting the numerous online meetings). Their objective? Enrich, without diluting, the recommendations that came out of the Panels.
Additionally, the Conference had the political support from the three European institutions from the beginning, who have now opened the doors to further participatory projects. Very recently, on September 14th 2022, Ursula Von Der Leyen said during her State of the Union’s Speech that they have taken stock of the CoFoE’s process and now want to launch a new deliberative event on mental health. In the meantime, the services of the three European institutions are currently connecting and implementing the recommendations of the CoFoE’s plenary in their respective policies. With this ambitious process, we leveled up what is possible to do with citizens in terms of deliberation in Europe and we hope it will spread in all the territories.
But the project was long and intense. It is true that deliberations were sometimes fragmented with so many various topics, the three parallel processes of the platform, the panels and the plenary. This could be improved, in order to involve more citizens, in various formats, into collective discussions about our common future. The COFE was a real time stress test that helped us to prepare and develop the future deliberative events at EU level. Right now, several initiatives are taken to make such processes run as smooth as possible while being even more accessible.
The EuComMeet project is one of these initiatives. By proposing a design alternating synchronous and asynchronous deliberation, taking place on a platform, the EuComMeet project could provide a wonderful toolbox for companies, public authorities or organisations that want to have cross-EU deliberative processes. The development of the automated moderation and the automated translation could also lift barriers that exist such as costs or language. On the research side, EuComMeet project will help to understand what it means to have EU-wide deliberation in terms of identity, inclusion and polarization: will the citizens have a different say when they are speaking with fellows from their own country rather than from other countries? How will participants from different countries find a consensus on a topic that is differently perceived across states? These are questions that the EuComMeet project will help to understand. Additionally, the fact that citizens talk about the same topic, climate, in both processes (it was the topic for one of the panels of the Conference) will help us to make relevant and precise comparisons.
As you can see, both projects are ambitious and different in their approach and methods, but both want to push further the limits of deliberation while maximizing its impact at all levels.
Missions Publiques team
In addition to its involvement in the EuComMeet project, the Paris 8 team has followed with great interest the preparation, progress and results of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Paris 8 team led a team of observers throughout this deliberative process in order to analyze the quality and relevance of the discussions and the effective outcomes of the conference.
In relation to the EuComMeet project, the Paris 8 team observed a certain number of common points that will allow us to conceive and improve future deliberation projects at the European level. These include especially the challenges of multilingual and automated translation, as well as those of digital accessibility and practices.
The CoFE differed from other deliberative assemblies in the high level of ambition shown by its organizers, who brought together 800 people from all over Europe over several months, interacting in 24 different languages on 9 major themes, including climate change. This experience was also exceptional given the fact that it had to take place in a pandemic context which made it particularly difficult for European citizens to physically gather to debate. Last but not least, the war in Ukraine also added a particular sense of gravity to these assemblies and undoubtedly accelerated the awareness of its participants and organizers of the need to build a truly democratic Europe, as the President of the European Commission pointed out again recently.
The work done by our observer group was particularly rich, analyzing the role of the experts, their selections, the conduct and outcome of the CoFE and its general framework. Our observers attended several assemblies and working groups throughout the process, as well as online exchanges during the most critical waves of covid. We were able to exchange and conduct interviews with participants and organizers and we continue to work in contact with them.
The EuComMeet project remains much more modest in its approach and ambitions but will make it possible to consider and improve certain aspects of digital communication between citizens, specific to the European context. It will bring together citizens from five different countries and five different languages to engage in an online dialogue on environmental issues, at local, national, and European levels, and over synchronous and asynchronous time frames. The study of these different settings will allow us to understand and further improve the quality of future deliberations on a European scale.
The use of a digital platform was of key importance for the conduct of the CoFE during the Covid pandemic. These events have shown the importance for Europe to provide quickly accessible and usable digital platforms to overcome such contingencies. As observers we found that while the existence of a digital divide between European citizens had to be considered by the conference organizers, the use of online discussion also showed unexpected benefits: greater ease of access for people who are geographically distant, transformation and smoothing of the conversation. Far from being a mere palliative to the impossibility of physical exchange between citizens, digital deliberation appears to be a deliberative method in itself, with its own advantages and disadvantages, and its own discussion dynamics, which therefore need to be better understood, as the Team of Paris 8 is now engaged in, thanks to the EUComMeet project.
Paris 8 team