Every five years, there is an european debate on how to increase turnout in european elections, which have historically low participation. A lot has been done, many students in europe learn about the EU in school which is vital for them to understand this organization and know how to participate; also the spitzenkandidaten process gives more transparency to the whole election process. However there is a lot to be done; european elections still have a low participation, european citizens feel distant and national politicians continue to neglect these elections.
One of the errors in adressing this problem is exactly the overfocus on the european elections. Make no mistake, participation in the european election is vital for our institutions, but we can’t expect a high turnout if we have only the debate about democratic participation from 5 to 5 years. Democracy shoulnd’t be a quinquennial voting event. European institutions should make na effort to promote democratic participation in the dailylife of european citizens. If so, the interest about european matters will increase, european election turnout will be higher!
The idea of citizen’s conventions is interesting. I think it would be important to bring together national policy makers, european leaders to discuss the future of Europe with ordinary citizens. Some fear that these public debates will give euroscpetics a platform to preach the gospel against an United Europe. That’s indeed a risk. But if it’s there is a need to discuss why the european union makes sense it is better to do so in these popular conventions than let fake news accounts in social media to the job. Another important idea would be EU participatory budgets – A process in which citizens decide where to spend part of the public budget. This would make civil society discuss and engage much more with the EU. In my city, Lisbon, participatory budgets were such sucess in terms of civic engagement that the national government is doing 2 nationwide participatory budgets, one just for young people and other for everyone.
A special attention needs to be paid to disenfranchised and marginalized communities like city suburbs or rural areas. These communities normally don’t vote in european elections and if they do that, they vote for candidates that blame the EU for state of their lives. The EU needs to work with national governments to improve it’s presence and representation in these areas. Social media ads are very important but it’s more effective to contact directly with ordinary people, make them know about the advantages of the EU and why they should participate in the european democracy. If it’s done, i have no doubt people would be more willing to turnout and participate in the european decision making.