The Citizen Lobbyist at the Centre of the European Project
In a recent op-ed I wrote for Social Europe I outline the role that citizen lobbyists must play in the future of the European project.
While public sentiment about the European project has rebounded, Europeans remain largely dissatisfied with whether their voices and concerns count in Brussels. Despite recurrent calls for radically reforming the European Union to ensure a greater involvement of EU citizens, little is expected to change between now and the next 2019 European Parliament (EP) elections.
Given the economic recovery and restored popularity it might be tempting for EU political leaders to neglect citizens’ demands. Yet it would also be a mistake Europe can no longer afford. Today Europe’s greatest deficit is not democratic, but one of intelligibility. As we get lost in endless discussions on whether we need more, less, or a fairer Europe, we fail to recognise how indecipherable its operation is. The lack of an EU public sphere condemns citizens to be exposed exclusively to domestic accounts of EU developments. No wonder these reports are inevitably partial, often misinformed, and generally misleading from national politicians who seek electoral rewards by passing the buck and scapegoating the EU.
But, despite its unintelligibility the EU’s day-to-day operation is, on average, more open, inclusive and accountable than that of most EU Member States. Multiple avenues of participation exist, ranging from agenda-setting via the European Citizens’ Initiative, advice and data-collection via public consultation, and adjudication via administrative and legal actions before the EU Ombudsman and national courts respectively.
As I argue in a new book, Lobbying for Change: Find Your Voice to Create a Better Society, to win the civic challenge in the EU (and elsewhere) we need to foster a participatory culture by connecting highly-educated and purpose-seeking European citizens with the existing and numerous avenues of participation.
By countering the undue influence of a few special interest groups in the policy-making process, citizen lobbyists may act as equalizers.