A discussion forum, set up in 20 languages, is now available for the discussion on the future of Europe. So far three areas has been set up.
As we have earlier reported on extensively, the Commission has been in somewhat of a flux since the humiliating defeats in the national referendums in France and the Netherlands on the proposed Constitution.
What followed was plan "D", which by no means was, or is, without controversy in the Commission. While nobody objects to the worthwhile ambition to bring Europe closer to its citizens, the methods proposed are not equally endorsed. Mrs Margot Wallströms idea to organise a broad debate in all member states involving citizens, organised civil society, social partners, national parliaments and political parties has been met with sceptisism. Representatives of civil society has, understandably enough, embraced these new initiatives. To make Plan D fully operational, however, calls for a more substantial support, both in political and financial terms. The concept of a grass-root level debate is an ambitious and a challenging one, but civil society representatives will obviously not oppose being heard.
With the newly opened internet forum, the Commission wants to promote and support national debates on the development of the European Union. The three topics so far includes
- Europe's economic and social development (Lisbon reform agenda and sustainable development);
- Citizens' feelings towards Europe and what are the Union's tasks?
- What are the borders of Europe and what is the EU's role in the world?
Obviously there is pause for concern just at how democratic this type of forum is, and what the purpose of the forum is. Only too easily can it be construed as a smoke screen, making it look like the Commission is listening. It ought therefore to be in the interest of all those whose voices are not usually heard, to speak up. How likely this is remains to be seen. Grass-root level discussions are not easily started in this manner.
The site also provides links to the national debates in the member states. So far 7 of 25 member states have initiated national consultations processes. They are all linked from the Europa Debate-site.
Crucial open questions that will need an answer are: Will this instrument reach the opinion-makers in the member states? How will the discussions be processed? Will the reactions really count or is the debate just for show?
In addition to Plan D, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström also presented an internal action plan and a White Paper on Communication, which is meant to gather opinions on how to improve the EU's communication strategy towards its citizens and counter the increasing doubts Europeans have about the role and further development of the Union.
EU Communication Policy White paper