The Berggruen Institute has released a new report evaluating the use of deliberative democracy as a core component of the recently-concluded Conference on the Future of Europe. Deliberative democracy is a process by which groups of stakeholders chosen from a population at random gather for mediated deliberation and decision making about policy.
Authored by Berggruen Future of Democracy Fellow Carsten Berg, the report finds that these European Citizens’ Panels were a milestone for EU governance, demonstrating the potential of deliberative democracy as a component of 21st century political processes. The report also explored shortcomings in the process and design of the panels, and recommended necessary improvements for future use of deliberative democracy in the EU.
“This process proved the ability of diverse groups of stakeholders to generate innovative policy ideas with honest and engaged deliberation often missing from election campaigns and legislative chambers,” said Berg. “With authoritarianism on the rise on Europe’s doorstep and in some of its national capitals, we can renew democracy by looking to the abilities in imagination and compromise to be found in our citizens.”
European Citizens’ Panels were a major instance of transnational deliberative democracy in which participants did not all speak the same language. The process gathered 800 citizens chosen at random from all EU member nations and language groups to deliberate and recommend changes to the EU’s constitutional structure. The deliberation was moderated by outside specialists selected for their subject matter expertise, closely resembling citizens’ assembly processes that have taken place in France and Ireland in recent years.
Major recommendations of the panels centered around measures to further centralize EU authority, such as by ending the unanimity rule, and transferring greater responsibility to the EU government over policy areas currently in national hands, such as health, social, and foreign policy. These ideas were adopted by the overall conference, whose recommendations may be implemented in the future by the EU Council. The EU Commission has indicated that it will organize deliberative assemblies to contribute to major EU policy debates in the future.
More work will need to be done to ensure that these future assemblies will be trustworthy features of a democratic process, the report notes. One shortcoming was that experts providing input to random citizens were selected by conference organizers, rather than by a neutral third-party organization. In addition, more efforts must be undertaken to control for selection bias among deliberators by encouraging participation by those who oppose EU institutions and governance.
“Altogether, the EU Citizens’ Panels were an encouraging landmark in our understanding of the possibilities of deliberative democracy,” said Dawn Nakagawa, Executive Vice President of the Berggruen Institute. “Governments at all levels should develop and implement the capacity for citizens’ deliberation as mechanisms for improving both legitimacy and decision making.”
This report is one of several Berggruen Institute initiatives related to deliberative democracy, an idea spearheaded by Institute co-founders Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels in their 2019 book Renovating Democracy: Governing in the Age of Globalization and Digital Capitalism. The Institute’s Future of Democracy program has been promoting deliberative democracy through initiatives such as Sense LA, which uses creative assemblies to better connect communities with local government in Los Angeles; and the Youth Environment Service (YES) campaign, which holds deliberative assemblies of young people around the world about addressing climate change in their communities.
“If anything, restoring the institutional equilibrium through mediated popular sovereignty is more critical now than when the American Founding Fathers crafted their design for republican governance, said Gardels. “To mend the breach of trust which has emerged between the institutions of self-government and the public, we must integrate social networks and more direct democracy into the system through new mediating institutions that complement representative government.”