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Europe Wide Views on Sustainable Consumption

Marie-Louise Jшrgensen, Ventseslav Kozarev and Kathrine Lindegaard Juul

Abstract: Jшrgensen, Kozarev and Lindegaard Juul lay out the rationale and methodology for a multi-site citizen

participation exercise carried out within the larger framework of the PACITA project. The exercise gathered more than 1,000 citizens at parallel citizens' summits in eleven European countries, exemplifying the practicability of orchestrating public engagement in connected national arenas across Europe. The authors argue that not only did the events themselves provide comparable samples of informed and deliberated opinions, but also the cross-national collaboration to prepare the events, which involved both central stakeholders and policymakers, served as a vehicle for consensus building among these actors. Based on the response of participants and political recipients, a call is made for further capacity building for cross-European citizen participation.

Klьver, Lars, Rasmus Шjvind Nielsen, and Marie Louise Jшrgensen, eds. Policy-Oriented Technology Assessment Across Europe: Expanding Capacities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. doi: 10.1057/9781137561725.0018.

The infamous democratic deficit of European institutions has spurred a range of different initiatives that aim to close down the persisting gap between decision makers and citizens. Once a buzzword, public engagement has become a staple of European policy discourse on account of this remaining deficit. By way of realizing the potential of public engagement, procedures have been developed with and in some cases embedded in institutional procedures. But recent cases show that great dissatisfaction among citizens remains with regard to their ability to influence policy.

One promising avenue of development is that of deliberative forms of citizens' engagement at relatively early stages of European policy formation. Such formats have been tested on several occasions by European research projects (CIVISTI, VOICES and others; see also Olsen and Trenz, 2010) and show great promise. These projects have shown the ability of deliberative processes to qualify citizens' opinions based on information and mutual learning as well as to establish through dialogue a democratic rather than merely private mind-set among citizens. This means that while such 'mini-publics' are rarely representative in a statistical sense, they manage nevertheless to give a trustworthy picture of the differences of opinion that may emerge through public debates on policy matters. Furthermore, these experiments have thoroughly debunked the myth that citizens will not be able to grasp the complexity of policy matters. The opposite in fact seems true: citizens quickly home in on the most crucial issues once the knowledge base that is available to decision makers is presented to them.

One reservation remains, however, that prevents Europe from wholeheartedly embracing deliberative public engagement, namely the concern whether citizens are in fact able to adopt a 'European perspective' without the intervention of overly costly procedures of lingual and cultural translation. To address this reservation, the third example project of PACITA adapted a multi-site citizens' participation method developed in the TA community. We wanted to show that the dichotomy between one European policy and several national polities is a false one: national publics are already 'de facto' cosmopolitan publics (Beck and Grande, 2007), and with regard to issues of systemic risks shared across border, coordinating public engagement across European member states in fact produces a genuinely European vox populi.

On 25 October 2014, more than 1,000 ordinary citizens participated in this cross-national citizen consultation entitled Europe Wide Views on Sustainable Consumption. [1] The day-long event took place simultaneously in eleven EU member states (see below). The substantial aim of the consultation was to bring the reflected views of citizens to policy makers and thus influence concrete policies in the years ahead. Sustainable consumption is one of the grand challenges faced by European society, and one in which the range of policy options is closely linked to public opinion. And policy makers generally hesitate to consider policies aimed at private consumption for fear of intervening too much in the private sphere. With this consultation, we wanted to restructure the debate on policies on sustainable consumption by allowing citizens to redraw from their own perspectives the line between acceptable and intrusive interventions in private consumption patterns. As we shall see below, this public engagement exercise became a process through which not only citizens, but also supporting stakeholders and policy makers came to revisit basic policy assumptions – precisely from a European perspective.

  • [1] National holidays meant that Czech and Hungarian meetings were held one week earlier.
 
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