Everything has its time. Especially, once ideas should be made reality and linked closely within society. For more than 60 years, JEF has been working for the inclusion and participation of all Europeans in a federal Europe and for more than 20 years JEF has worked on a consultation process to include all citizens. To judge on success or failure of integration and participation every single person has to decide for him or herself. To measure it upon election turnout is disillusioning. So what role does Web 2.0, the World Wide Web, play? It has opened up new possibilities since the turn of the millennium to participate.
The technology gap
The EU has set itself high aims and wants to be leading in eParticipation by 2020. An ambitious aim. Just because there is technology, its implementation and use cannot be taken for granted (Web 2.0 will be Web 3.0 before the civil servants have finished for the day). Apart from the technological advances, in some areas traditional services have to be replaced with eServices and the public sector needs even longer to implement that. The economic aspect is, among others, to make European corporations as well as public services (eGovernment) more efficient using ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). Citizens should be included more in politics and political decision-making processes with the help of ICT. To make this possible, EU-funded pilot projects are testing the need and the use of citizens in the area of policy-making (eParticipation Preparatory Action plan) since 2006. Communication, interaction, access, efficiency and transparency are key.
Most eParticipation projects are EU-funded but are put into action locally. Currently, an amount of seven million Euros is available for the “Strengthening and participation of citizens in a transparent decision-making process on EU level”. The entire budget is 63 million Euros until 2013. One of the funded projects is the Pan European eParticipation Network since 2007. Public institutions, technology experts, researchers and citizens’ organisations are connected here as a stakeholder in the area of web based citizens’ participation. Apart from the connection of actors, the aim is to exchange best practices in order to advance eParticipation.
What does eParticipation look like in reality?
Many of these questions, especially how democratic and safe eParticipation is, cannot be answered here. Let’s be content about all these pilot projects among which eDemocracy can choose from.
Form an opinion: To form an opinion one needs information. There are various online games but also Twitter ‘question times’ and web portals. One example is “ePractice”, an interactive portal from the European Commission that offers services such as factsheets, workshops and best practice examples. Further, comparison tools or instruments such as “Vote Match” can help citizens to form an opinion.
Be involved: On the homepage of “Märker Brandenburg”, citizens can report infrastructural problems such as broken traffic lights, fallen over trees or potholes to the authorities. On the portal “Let’s do it”, citizens can display and present their personal cleaning commitment. That is motivating and gives everyone ideas how we can keep our environment clean. An example for individual commitment also in other areas for a social, ecological and economical sustainable world in the future?
To offer an opinion and in dialogue with institutions to make decisions: One of the main expectations of eParticipation is the inclusion of the electorate in the political decision-making process. Using an online-dialogue with the citizens, the political elite wants to improve its image but also the quality or the acceptance of political decisions. Examples for this are projects such as “Bürgerhaushalten” (citizens on the budget) or local questions of project planning. The consultation processes on EU level are well known.
Discussion: For the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the pilot project “EuroPetition” is relevant. It is all about actual European petitions. A contact person each discusses petitions that are similar in five member states. There is a continuous contact to the European Parliament and one of the contact persons negotiates the terms of the (then) European petition here. The national online discussion is held in the relevant language. The experiences should serve future ECIs. Many questions on the topic of the ECI have yet to be answered though.
What can we learn? Once online technology becomes more user-friendly and accessible to all citizens, leading to democratic participation, it is not only a chance for inclusion in the European decision-making process in total, but also a chance for the European Citizens’ Initiative, to become an eCitizensinitiative. An issue that bears many more topics for discussion.