EU values, rule of law and democracy

The first online workshop about “EU values, rule of law and democracy” within the EZA series of workshops about the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) took place on 19 October 2021, organized by EZA, with the support of the European Union.

It focused on the topics EU values, rule of law and democracy. Professor Dr. Léonce Bekemans, Jean Monnet Chair ad personam, started with an overview of the EU Values and how they are anchored in the EU Treaties. ”At the stake is a European model that combines social security and economic solidarity with shared values of freedom, democracy and rule of law.”, dixit professor Bekemans. It is clear for the professor that a vision is needed for a more cohesive, democratic, fairer and sustainable future.

He reminds us to article 2 of the Treaty of the EU (TEU): “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

And important for a workers’ organization is that social dialogue (Art.154 & 155) is part of the legal base of European values and democracy.

The TEU also defines the elements for the representative democracy and for the participative democracy. EU must connect with the citizens and involve them in the policy making. The professor shows that already a lot of steps are made by the EU, but there can be done more.

Professor Bekemans underlined that we must draw Europe together. As conclusion of his introduction, he gave four proposals.

Building a best practice of cooperation and communication internally and externally in dialogical frameworks (2) Showing that people can live together in the world, in respect of differences (3) Improving the social dialogue, being the pillar of the European social model to make social and economic systems more socio-economically efficient and ecologically sustainable (4) Playing a more courageous and dynamic role in the international political scene by defending its model of peace and transnational cooperation and by strengthening its method of collaboration with other macro regions.

Our second speaker was Hanna Werner, postdoctoral researcher of the Democratic Innovation and Legitimacy Research Group, KULeuven. She focused on the research result of participative democracy. An important document in this area is from OECD and deals with innovative citizens participation and new democratic institutions.

She underlined that the widespread dissatisfaction with politics needs an answer. The solution is involving ordinary citizens in political decision making. Participatory processes are growing around the globe. There are several models and experiments.

Ms. Werner told us more about the referendum, the participatory budgeting and the deliberative minipublic. Research results learn us that citizens who participate are better informed about the issue, their standpoints and the views of others and develop a more favourable attitude towards the authorities that organize the process. Participatory processes can be a way to bridge the gap between citizens and politicians and rebuild trust. But when citizens feel that the process was just for show, there can be a potential backlash. Citizens want these processes to be advisory and acknowledge the role of elected representatives.

The impact of these participatory processes on policy depends strongly on embeddedness of the process, publicity of the process, follow up mechanism, willingness of political actors to engage.

Ms. Werner main take aways were:

  1. Participatory processes are no catch-all solution: they sometimes work and sometimes don’t
  2. Understand participatory processes as a communication tool between representatives and citizens and between citizens themselves
  3. Genuine engagement and respect is key (Uptake and Institutionalization)

During the second part of the workshop the participants put their proposals on the table. These proposals will be the base for the further discussion of our input. We pick a few proposals of the long list, so the reader has an impression.

-EU values need more and better promotion to achieve a wide and common understanding among all European citizens and promote the EU values to the further generations. Projects involving citizens stay important.

-There is a need to regulate social media to avoid hate, agitation and disinformation with regard to values.

-Social justice is the pillar for a better Europe.

-Human dignity and the freedom of opinion of workers’ organisations need to be protected better and all over Europe.

-It is necessary to promote social dialogue and collective bargaining (in particular on sectoral level).

-Participatory processes need to be more than one shot initiatives. They must be institutionalized, and this will make political decision making more efficient.

-It is important to correctly determine the level of competence and responsibility.

-It is necessary that effective labour regulation will be established in multinational enterprises in Europe.

-Non-political actors (i.e. media, multinational enterprises) are gaining more and more space in political decision-making. The role of such actors has to be reviewed and considered against the background of the democratic constitution of Europe.