18 July 2023
EU Public Affairs Manager, Nahr, is upbeat in spite of the polycrises Europe currently faces as it looks towards next year’s European elections. “The good news is that destiny is in our hands – we’re not doomed, there is space for hope and destiny”, he says. Nahr is referring to the EurHope project that launched amid some fanfare at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the 9th of May, Europe Day, this year.
Described on the website as “a unique participatory initiative that will reach out to one million young citizens in the 27 EU member states over the course of a year”, EurHope asks Europe’s youth to focus on one question: What are your ideas for building together a Europe that can respond to future challenges? Some view this as a concrete attempt to further address a lack of citizen involvement at European level. But will it work?
The goal is to encourage “an unprecedented dialogue on a European scale”. This will allow Make.org to identify the priorities of young Europeans ahead of the 2024 elections. Results will be released in the form of a Citizen’s Agenda in Madrid in November of this year. They will serve as a lever for “the massive mobilisation of young people” to share their ideas with elected representatives and members of civil society more broadly.
Not there yet
Nahr is upbeat but at present, the EurHope platform registers 1,301 proposals submitted and 135,243 votes cast. This is just 14% of the final goal. With only 80 days left until the consultation closes in September, Nahr explains that they are working with regional and national partners over the summer to extend offline outreach. There will also be a final big push in September when holidays and everyone comes back to work and studies.
Although EurHope is aimed at European youth, everyone is welcome to participate on the platform. However, if you want to share a proposal, date of birth and other personal information is required. This means that when the consultation closes and all the data gets crunched, Nahr and his colleagues aim to ensure that the priorities identified and selected for inclusion in the Citizen’s Agenda are truly those of the youth.
What happens next?
Just how many youth priorities will be included in the final agenda? This will depend on what they find in the data. But Nahr imagines it will be in the region of 10 to 12 key take-aways. So what happens next? The European Parliament has been involved in this project from the start. MEPs, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (Greens), Brando Benifei (Socialist and Democrats Alliance) and Sandro Gozi (Renew Europe), were all at the launch in Strasbourg.
The final agenda will be shared with the parties of the European Parliament. The hope, is that the concerns of the youth will be taken into account by way of inclusion in party manifestos or similar, explains Nahr. Nonetheless, there is no obligation on European parties or MEPs to address these concerns directly. Results will no doubt be used in election campaigns to garner votes from young Europeans. But will the EurHope agenda be used to address the concerns of Europe’s youth in more concrete terms such as policy change?
Keeping doors open for all
Make.org is not new to large-scale online participation processes like this one. In 2019, they ran a similar project in the run-up to the European elections. This one was aimed at all European citizens and engaged 1.7 million people. Ahead of the French presidential elections in 2022 they ran another large-scale online engagement campaign. “Technology at this scale opens doors to those who might not otherwise participate”, assures Nahr.
The issue of representativeness continues to be a challenge to all participatory processes. Make.org uses a variety of processes to help ensure diversification of reach. On the platform, barriers to entry are kept as low as possible via simplicity of design and intuitiveness of use. For example, one does not have to register on the platform in order to vote on the EurHope proposals.
They are also working with media partners – Euractiv in France and in Germany. Both outlets have agreed to put a widget on their own sites. This means readers can participate in EurHope without having to leave the site. Social media also plays an important part in their online strategy. Offline, they work with a wide range of partners at different levels and in different sectors of society. In this way, they hope to reach a range of people across many places.
Panels & platforms work best together
Nahr is eager to expand synergies between online and offline participation, going forward. “I believe deliberative and participatory, panels and platforms can go hand-in-hand” he says. Referring to the Conference on the Future of Europe, he explains how a side consultation involving those online participants who received high-levels of support for their proposals, were invited to attend a panel discussion with Ministers, MEPs and policy-makers. Nine out of ten of these people told them that they had very little knowledge or interest in the EU, before this, says Nahr.
Getting online and offline approaches to citizen participation to reinforce one another is optimal. Nahr suggests starting with a broad initial online consultation process to help set a widely supported agenda. This agenda can then be discussed in more depth and detail by a citizens’ panel. Then, ideally, the findings of the panel should be disseminated back online so that a wider, maxi public can respond to them. Such an approach also helps create “a stronger media echo”, says Nahr.
Can Europe lead on civic tech innovation?
Talking about the future of civic tech in Europe, Nahr highlights the wide variety of tools and methodologies in the sector which are suited to solving a wide range of problems. However, he also emphasises the need for EU institutions to be open to innovation and brave enough to fully embrace the range of new solutions and approaches on offer. “Civic tech can definitely give people a seat at the table, who otherwise might not have had one” affirms Nahr.