Home / Europe 2020 / EU Democratisation – Which political message in Laeken and how to make it heard?

EU Democratisation – Which political message in Laeken and how to make it heard?

Executive summary Seminar EU-Governance 2020 (Paris, October 5, 2001)



During this 6th Europe 2020 Anticipation Seminar which took place on October 5th, 2001 at the International Conference Centre of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the theme : « Which message in Laeken and how to make it heard ?”, representatives from 9 Member-States, as well as NGO, media, university and institution officials, attempted to identify which was the message expected by the public opinions from the Laeken Summit ; but also in what measure the European political and institutional system was able to deliver the expected message.

In the middle of a historical ford

This seminar was held less than a month after the September 11 attacks, and less than 3 months before the Euro switch ; it was therefore an occasion to take a note of a unanimous sentiment : we have all entered a particular period in history closing an era and opening an epoch of major uncertainty, some sort of a « historical shunting », in particular when it comes to the European construction.

Indeed, what we already considered as an important necessity in the last months – to set up a new dialogue between the peoples and the Euro-leaders on the orientations of the project of European integration – now appears as an imperative requirement.

With the Euro switch, and given the failure of the Irish referendum, it has become obvious that new ways of making Europe must be invented; since September 11th, History invites us to reinvent the international architecture and globalisation as a whole.

And this sort of invitation cannot be overlooked … without taking the risk to be rejected in the past.

The « Democratic dialogue on the future of Europe » : the gap between citizens and European system is now acknowledged

At this stage, just as the previous Europe 2020 Anticipation Seminar had enable to state, the general feeling prevailing in the member-States regarding the dialogue initiated as a follow up of the difficulties recorded at the Nice Summit, is that the operation had no real impact.

In terms of media, the summer cut followed by the September 11th attacks and the Euro-related worries, leave no space to such a debate. Many Member-States have limited this “dialogue” to a parliamentary debate with no echo among the public opinion at large, and in which the main difficulty it to prevent the politicians to monopolise the speech ; in other Member-States, the various citizen-based discussion forums were faced to the double problem of the absence of local relays aware of the topics dealt with, and of the resulting monopoly of expert organisations European-wise or of the thematic specialists (during sectoral debates).

In terms of public preoccupation, whether in France, Ireland or Austria, two main lines appear : worry on the democratic risk conveyed by the current European process, linked to a coiling up on the national frame identified to cultural identity and democratic functioning. Various themes of common interest thus appear : ensuring the setting up of an efficient (Germans), transparent (Finnish) and democratic (French) Europe, able to react in an organised manner to events as serious as the 11 September, in a way that valorises a European model of society, distinct from the American one, in the sense that it is based on principles of security and freedom.

However the principal lesson to be drawn from this experiment seems to be the rise of awareness among an increasing number of actors in the European political and administrative system that the European system is more or less incapable to initiate a dialogue with the citizens on the European issue. Lack of relays, lack of operational methods, lack of common themes, lack of common vocabulary… are indeed the characteristics of the democratic debate today in Europe. The growing awareness is in itself a positive thing as it can contribute to accelerate the evolutions needed in the year 2002; it also illustrates the rather complete isolation of the European institutions which could only exist in this debate through the local initiatives of the cities where they are settled (Brussels and Strasbourg, namely) and which Internet relays, just like those of the member-States, have not managed to generate any significant traffic (a few hundreds of contributions at most). As to the useful initiatives, such as the project to think about the future of EU gouvernance (cf the White Book on Gouvernance produced by the Commission), they do not manage to fill in the conceptual void, as they are launched in a way that deliberately reduces their impact (announcement on July 25th…a period hardly compatible with great public debates!) and as they find difficulties clarifying challenges and mobilizing relays.

Despite these obstacles in the implementation, it is generally agreed upon that the debate has created a demand that already raised the question of how to involve durably these new actors in the European machinery, and that highlights the need to continue the dialogue.

A European Summit more and more cut from the bottom as no real information flows from the citizens

Among the first results of the failures of the democratic debate on the future of Europe, there is the fact that the Laeken Summit will not be fed by a bottom-up information flow on the expectations, the projects, the fears of the European citizens. Surrounded by committees of « wisemen », whether national or European, all of them coming from the European system itself and already aware of the difficulties that there are to synthesize the information gathered along the first phase of implementation of the debate, the Laeken Summit will most probably be a pure product of the EU system. And that is precisely what the European leaders wanted to avoid by any means after the failures of the Nice Summit.

Still, on this aspect, unless the citizens massively mobilize themselves in the coming 2-3 weeks, things have little chances to change.

This situation is worth being reflected on: indeed, this time, the Euro-leaders really expressed and repeated their wish to see this dialogue take place and that an greater implication of civil society and the citizens was needed. However due to a lack of efficient methods, of relevant contents, of credible relays, the citizens did not listen; or rather they got interested in other aspects of the European construction (such as the Euro). Somehow it is no longer the EU system that neglects to consult the citizens; it is the citizens themselves who no longer want to speak with the system.

The main problem can be formulated as follows :

The citizens want to take part to the decision-making processes, rather than be engaged in a dialogue. The most active fringe of European society (companies, associations, universities…) produces some Europe on a daily basis and therefore wishes to take part to the collective decision-making processes. The EU system remains confined in its prerogatives and desperately tries to concede some “debate” and some “dialogue” in vain and with no clear intention. During the seminar’s debates, the image of the breathless system of Eastern Europe in the 70s-80s was brought up to illustrate the current situation of the EU.

A 100% bureaucratic Laeken press release instead of a visionary message

It is therefore the EU machinery that currently monopolises the preparation of the next Summit and of its message. At this stage, it seems the games have already been played. The political and institutional system is building the summit the way it likes them, i.e. “bureaucratic” and “procedural”, with a press release (rather than a “message”) concerned by the follow-up of Nice (itself concerned by the follow-up of Amsterdam… – thinking ruptures is not the speciality of an administration !). Centred on the preparation of the 2004 IGC, with as sole preoccupation the composition and functioning of the « Convention » in charge of the debate prior to this IGC, the Laeken press release will most certainly issue « strong » news such as the participation of the Committee of Regions or that of the European Social and Economic Council in the Convention!

In fact, despite the general agreement on the necessity to bring the citizens closer to the institutions, these institutions seem to draw back when it comes to the implication of civil society within the Laeken Summit, because they cannot find satisfactory means of articulation between the two.

The seminar’s participants generally acknowledged that the risk existed to see the gap increase between the expectations of the public opinion which between September 11th and the Euro-switch expects visionary indications on the general orientations of the post January 2002 Europe, and a Laeken release focused on the internal problems of the EU system. Some speakers even underlined their inner conviction that the EU system was today completely incapable to deliver anything else than this sort of result given the absence of any political European leadership, given the perpetuation of the diplomatic method at the heart of the European means of negociation, and given the autonomous functioning of the administrations, by nature against any sort of visionary or ambitious approach.

The result is that everyone at this stage more or less agrees on the fact that Laeken cannot be anything else than another failure given that both in its purpose and in its methods, it is a pure product of this past and gone EU method.

A dead-born post-Laeken, and a Convention and an IGC absorbed by the political and administrative EU system

In search for reasons to hope, the work in this seminar tried to imagine in which way the coming months could offer opportunities for a message consistent with the historical constraints and expectations to be formulated, given that a new period will open starting in January 2002 and the arrival of the Euro in the citizens’ pockets.

The Convention, designed to be the matrix of the future IGC’s content, already gives matter to a number of dealings as intense as they are incomprehensible for the average Euro-citizen. Institutions unknown to him are tearing one another to be part of and/or prevent the other from joining in. Civil society (the magic word) will certainly be represented but no one knows how and by whom the organisations will be selected (most probably the Brussels’ liaison offices, as far from the people as the Commission, the Council or the Parliament themselves, will get the lion’s share). Given the gap between the concerns and know-hows of the institutional operators on the one hand, and of these new actors of civil society on the other, it is probable that no convention whatsoever can result in anything else that a complete chaos, unless maybe if it was divided in two distinct and parallel conventions ; or if, as some speakers suggested it, this convention significantly integrated representatives of the media (journalists or press magnas).

This group, whatever it will be, will work 18 months (the time that everything is put in place, there might be 6 useful months) in order to provide the member-States and European institutions with an undetermined product likely to be freely reconsidered, amended, rejected or ignored by the EU system and leaders.

Not even prejudging the quality of the work (which will certainly be completely disconnected from the public opinions), it seems rather illusory to imagine that any positive result can derive from this « institutional gasworks ». There is however a negative result which is predictable as it had already been witnessed at the previous summits, and which derives from the general « virtualism » more and more characteristic of these meetings. The “announcements” of the Heads of State and Government are less and less followed by any tangible results (or within acceptable times, i.e. less than 2-3 years) and thus provoke expectations or hopes systematically deceived, and in the end considerably erode the credibility of the issuers of political messages. In a certain way, they contribute to gradually but steadily diminish the pro-European component of the public opinion.

All the more since in the case of the after-Laeken, the citizens, as they will face the Euro on a daily base and the political void that goes with it, will have more urgent concerns and will seek for more efficient channels to relay their expectations. These channels will be the national elections (both legislative and presidential).

A public opinion energized by new and contradictory trends, predicting European sanction-votes in the national-elections

It is indeed in this framework that the European project will meet the public opinion. One could think it is the worse framework possible as it is not at the scale of the European issues. However as there is no democratic means of expression at the European level, the citizen will find ways to express his opinions where it can, and these elections will certainly appear to him as the most adapted frame.

The institutional debate that will concern the Convention and that already worries the Laeken Summit, will be of no interest for the public opinion in 2002. Focused on the Euro and on its practical and democratic consequences (where has the power gone ? who is the leader ?), surrounded by an economic recession and unemployment regain, worried by the consequences of the new world disorder, the voters’ concerns relating to Europe will modify the electoral behaviours among a significant part of the voters (20% to 30%, namely the younger ones) who are already more and more reluctant to follow the “major” national parties. The conjunction of the loss of essential references (Euro, international crisis, recession…) will offer to the demagogs and populists of all sorts extremely efficient arguments to attract growing numbers of unsatisfied voters.

The public opinion will thus be divided between a tendency asking for “more Europe” … but not at the price of democracy; and a tendency asking for « more control on the evolutions »… even at the price of the European construction. Potentially, each voter will be energized by both contradictory aspirations, while it will belong to the national politicians to reinforce the one or the other. In a certain way, the sanction that “major” parties – which linked their destinies to the Euro and the European system all along the last 10 years – might resemble the Irish « referendum » in which the abstention of the pro-Europeans determined the result.

Anti-globalisation, generational gap,… these trends can turn against the European project, not mentioning the possible consequences of the American strikes

The anti-globalisation movement, which expressed loudly in the last year, and particularly at the European Summits, is a typical case of the confusion that growingly invades the European political arena. There we find various very contradictory tendencies ranging from those opposed to any sort of capitalism (extreme-left trends), to those aspiring to a more profound globalisation (in the political, social, environmental fields) and those defending the regional or national approaches (sovereignists, pro-blockists…).

In parallel, we find the generational duality, particularly significant on a European political level. Mostly launched and conducted by collectives of baby-boomers, those who march at the summits are mainly youngsters between 20 and 30 years old. The two groups in fact have neither the same expectations nor the same approach of polity; but the incapacity of the international and European system to integrate them, brings them together. The intra-EU generational gap (the debate on the future of Europe had been invested by the generation of the 50+…a fact which should appear rather suspect to the media if the latter were not in the hands of the same generation) is pushing the younger generations, naturally pro-European but not trained to the least European civic and political awareness, in the arms of opponents to the European construction.

These groups are also out of reach for the major political parties (all of them are deprived of any youngsters) and will not hesitate to sanction them if they appear to be unable answering simple questions such as « where do we go after the Euro ? and how ? which role for us citizens ?”.

In conclusion, the Laeken Summit is another lost battle in the re-conquest of the public opinions by the European project. Unless a last-minute miracle happens, the press-release of the Laeken Summit will address themes that have no meaning for the European citizen; it will not address with the required vision the historical challenges that every citizen feels Europe is currently facing.

Paradoxically, it is the deficit in political leadership that reinforces this situation (beyond the administrative monopoly over the European construction), as well as the incapacity of the leaders to become aware of the scope of the crisis currently splitting European society from the European construction ; it is indeed a new power-share that is at stake, a more democratic one, that concerns the decisions on the orientations and implementation of the European construction ; and not a dialogue.

It seems now inevitable that this fundamental conflict springs within the 2002 national elections, disturbing the national democratic game and preparing for populist and demagogic movements of a new kind. In a way or another, the democratic destiny of Europe and that of its unity are at the heart of this decade


1. If there were to be a Laeken Message designed to give back its meaning to the European construction, and to mobilize the public opinions and the kinetic energies in the EU (rather than a mere announcement and information release), it would be structured around the following axes, methods and targets :

- 3 basic axes that mean something to the public opinion : the Euro, the Future, The Globalisation

- 3 strong methodological axes : the European Revision, the Democratisation through action, a controled pace

- 2 main target-groups : the growing Generations (20-40 years-old), the “natural” European relays (beneficiaries/partners of the European policies)

Reading between the lines, all the structure of the message should be based on a call for a wide-ranging cooperation between citizens and institutions, between politicians and civil society, acknowledging the complexity of the European construction, leaving the game open and setting clearly that it is not a question of « dialogue » but of action, of common invention.

2. In order to illustrate these recommendations, and instead of long theoretical analyses, Franck Biancheri, Director of Study and Strategy of Europe 2020 and moderator of the seminar, wrote a « Leaken Message » that would respect these constraints and could take the form of a speech read by the President of the EU or the President of the European Commission :

Message of the European Summit of Laeken (a Europe 2020 simulation)

- With the Euro, a fundamental step in the European construction was made. A very strong link, experienced on a daily basis, will now connect the peoples and European citizens. The wish made by the founding-fathers and the post-war generation has become true: “an ever stronger union between the peoples”. .

- A new era will thus begin, and not only a new stage, together with year 2002. For Europe, by the advent of a stronger stability thanks to the Euro; for the world, by the new instability revealed by the September 11 attacks. As much as imagination and audacity were needed after the war in order to invent and launch the European construction, imagination and audacity will be needed this year in order to re-invent all together – with the citizens, civil society, companies, with the experts, the civil servants, the politicians – the methods, the institutions and the purpose of this new, more integrated and tomorrow larger Europe.

- It is also a new world ; and Europe should be able to bring to it its own specific and active contribution, bringing more stability, more justice, more prosperity and more peace to it. It should share with the other countries and regions of the world its unique experience that enabled in the last 50 years to transform conflictual international relations into peaceful internal relations. The vocation of multi-lateralism of Europe should find an expression in all the sectors of globalisation, as much as its will to associate the peoples to the great steps of its construction and of its external relations. And as the terrorist menace grows, the EU while reaffirming the necessity for firm answers to such intolerable acts, should state clearly its wish for an International Court of Justice to be set up in order to judge fairly those responsible for such actions, and should call the United-States namely to ratify such a treaty and prepare for a more stable and just 21st century.

- After 50 years of existence and good work, at the time of a switch to a new era and facing the new challenges brought by the 2 enlargements (enlargement to the citizens – Euro -, and enlargement to Eastern-Europe), it is now essential to proceed to a general revision of the EU system (institutions, methods, procedures, sectors, human resources). Directed towards the challenges of tomorrow – integration of the citizens, enlargement to the East and global role – this revision will aim at preparing a complete reorganisation of the EU system by 2004 in order to endow the EU with mechanisms adapted to the new century. Just like a car which drove a long way, the EU must go through a large inspection before entering the new adventure of the 21st century.

- With the Euro, 300 million citizens become « co-owners » of Europe. Therefore the power to make it, to change it, to orient it must be shared with everyone. It is vain and illusory to declare a “European democracy” all of a sudden, while most of our fellow citizens are completely ignorant of the complexity of the European decision-making circuits ; and while these very circuits are about to be revised precisely in order to enable the greater number to act and influence things. On the contrary, it is essential that this wide-ranging revision be the privileged democratic exercice for everyone to speak, participate, contribute to invent tomorrow’s Europe, and thus be trained to become an informed and responsible Euro-Citizen, within a citizen-oriented democratic system. In the course of year 2002 and year 2003, thanks to a sectoral approach, and via to a number of actions using the Internet (elections, debates, assessments) designed to enable everyone to fully understand Europe and the challenges related to it, the whole of the EU population will be invited to participate in the evaluation and redefinition of the common institutions, processes and goals. The synthesis of the whole process will take place in the second semester of year 2003 as part of a Convention gathering the representatives of the European institutions, governments, national parliaments, and the elected officials of the great European sectors. The synthesis would then be submitted for ratification to the Member-States by the end of 2004.

- Enlargement is a historical necessity which must be a success. And a successful enlargement is an enlargement that will reinforce the EU as much as the accessing countries. In order to answer this double condition, it is now obvious that nothing can start until the end of the process of European revision and the implementation of the resulting decisions, as well as until the Euro-shock has been absorbed. The EU in the matter must act with determination but without any hurry, because the populations, whether from East or West, would not forgive it. The process of enlargement can therefore only start on an operational basis by 2005, then both parts concerned will be ready to enter this long-waited process of European reunification.

- The younger generations, those born after the creation of the European Community, those that have always lived in a Europe where the thought of war has gradually become absurd, those who clearly feel that they belong to a greater European family, all of them know that their time has come to act and contribute to the historic process launched by their grand-parents. As much as in the field of computers and Internet in which the younger generations are requested to invent, create and develop new applications and products, the EU of tomorrow needs the creativity of its children for its institutional, political and social engineering. You are like a fish in the European waters. We need your natural European ease to pave the way to the future by your massive participation in this wide-ranging European revision. We, political leaders, as well as our collaborators – civil-servants or experts – are too much involved in the current system to stand back properly and conceive an efficient revision. Therefore we need your new eyes and we hope they will be innovating. Our experience of things and men will help to temperate things.

- Associations, universities, SMEs, research centres, local authorities, … you are hundreds of thousands involved as the active partners of the EU via its various policies and programmes. For more than a decade you have been producing as much Europe as the EU system itself. Without you, none these trans-European networks that connect you the ones with the others across the borders and have multiplied the contacts, exchanges and common projects, none of this would have existed. Without you, the EU would be a cold construction which pillars – the States and European institutions – would be surrounded by a total vacuum. Thanks to you and to your efforts, it is on the contrary a swarming life that developed and enabled the emergence of a true European civil society on which basis a common democracy can now take place. And you too have become good connoisseurs (fortunately not experts!) of the European issues, in your field namely. And your well-informed eyes know the defects and weaknesses of our European machinery; as much as they know its qualities and assets. We urgently need your knowledge and know-how to revise the European system on the eve of a new era. And we also need you, your partnership to root durably within our societies the experience of the last 50 years. We hope many of you will contribute to this wide-ranging revision; and we promise to provide all the means for you to express your expectations, criticisms and propositions in each of your fields of activity.

About Comcart Collaborator

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.