Legal Political-Sociological Reflections on the Participatory Democracy “Principle” in the European Union Treaty

Chair: Johannes Pichler, Austrian Institute for European Law and Policy, Salzburg

I. A “Principle” of Participatory Democracy in the EU?

The legislative motive for deserving the canon of participatory democracy instruments is proclaimed conclusively in the preamble of the Lisbon Treaty: the whole of Article 11 TEU has one and one desire only, namely, to enhance legitimacy. So, one might expect that any institution and any individual with a sense of personal responsibility for the constitutional fate of this Union would be eager to optimize the constitutional provisions and of the constitution´s ideal. Are they? Let us find out.

II. Which participation rights in particular are we actually talking about?

A holistic view of the hierarchy of citizens´ participation rights along with fundamental rights and other remedies Article 11 (1-4) TEU offers four instruments of citizens´ participation: (1) The Horizontal Civil Dialogue (HCD) - between citizens and citizens and representative associations; (2) The Vertical Civil Dialogue (VCD) - between the institutions and representative associations and civil society organisations; (3) Consultation Procedure (CP) - between whomever and the EU Commission; (4) The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) - between initiative groups and the EU Commission.

Article 17(3) Treaty on the Functioning of the EU opens a "Dialogue of Values" (DOV) between Religious Organisations and Philosophical Organisation on the one hand and "the Union" on the other side.

III. Perceptions of the Constitution´s reality - the instruments in action: Are they? A re-appraisal regarding the ECI and the Civil Dialogue

Since the DOV is a "closed shop", the HCD is stillborn and the CP is ascribed as "Disillusioned Participatory Democracy" we focus on the ECI, which is under intense public debate for years and the VCD, which is under construction right now.

IV. European Citizens´ Initiative

The procedures are very complex and governed by a very narrow minded sense of underlying mistrust. The regulation has strictly focused on the formal legal criteria and the debate is still occupied with fulfilling the criteria. Will a pro-active, fruitful, cooperative debate ever begin which concentrates on citizens´ desires? No signals in favour of that suggestion until now. The expected 2015 amendement is canceled. Time to wait and see whether the ECI breaks through despite these not very beneficial pre-conditions.

V. The European Vertical Civil Dialogue - the constitutional promise and its reality

Much constitutional "hope" was invested in an enhanced cooperation between the institutions and the civil society. But lack of unification goals of the civil societies numerous members and the lack of factual organised power is the detrimental hindrance for a significant breakthrough of a "dualism" between the issue-based European communities and the institutions.

VI. The very last word

Both political-sociological reality checks and screenings show that the constitutional invitation for enhanced citizens´ participation is far removed from having the design and support it needs in order to become a self-runner. Significant investment and a change of attitudes will be needed to get the participation movement up and into the wind.