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Consultation results

During the citizen consultation, data was collected in two ways. First, at the end of each thematic session, the citizens voted on a set of questions related to the strategies which they had touched upon in their

table 8.1 Europe Wide Views in numbers

deliberations. Second, at randomly selected tables, minute takers reported the views which citizens presented during deliberation. [1]

Generally, the outcomes of the consultation show that the citizens of Europe Wide Views accept the possibility of policy measures aimed at private consumption. Actually, they are strongly in favour of policy makers' taking ambitious steps in order to encourage more sustainable consumption in society. But it's not only policy makers who should take action; citizens also want to be involved in the process of striving towards a higher degree of sustainability in consumption.

Based on a thorough analysis of the quantitative as well as qualitative data, the EWViews partners have agreed on nine policy recommendations. Eight of the recommendations are directly linked to the citizens' views on how policy makers should act in order to achieve more sustainable consumption, while the last one has to do with the future use of citizen engagement in the EU. The nine policy recommendations are presented below in a random order:

� Set an ambitious European agenda to achieve more sustainable consumption.

� Perceive citizens as collaborators in striving towards sustainableconsumption.

� Do not leave sustainable consumption solely to the market.

� Make sustainable consumption cheap and easy.

� Use financial policy instruments to foster sustainable consumption.

� Provide better eco-efficient alternatives to conventional cartransport.

� Ensure longer durability of products.

� Raise awareness and educate citizens on how to consumesustainably.

� Engage European citizens in dialogue processes in the future.

The recommendations can be studied in greater detail in the policy report. [2]

Consulting citizens across Europe: a double question of trust and capacity

As already mentioned, the overall aim of the EWViews experiment went beyond the production of input for the concrete case of European sustainable consumption policy. The exercise was meant also to help build trust in such exercises in general and to spark capacity building among practitioners in the different European member states. The motivation has to do with the state-citizen interaction in Europe. The participation of citizens in policyand decision-making is increasingly seen as a necessary component of modern democratic societies. Still, EU member states differ in motivations for engagement, in traditions for doing so, in the degree of interest among policy makers and in the perceived legitimacy of such exercises at the policy level. Thus, even if public engagement is a commonly hailed value across Europe, participation exercises do not always succeed in building social trust. This poses a challenge to organizers and champions of participatory processes. Designing successful citizens' participation processes requires thorough and transparent preparation, continuous communication, and mechanisms for follow-up monitoring and control.

Countries handle this challenge very differently. In some countries, public engagement has traditionally been strong and both policy makers and decision makers have frequently based decisions informed by citizens' consultation processes. A few, such as Austria, have frequently relied on referenda, rather than on separate institutions, to encourage the public's involvement in making the decisions themselves. In others, such as Denmark, public engagement traditions have been embedded in the way that specific public institutions are designed, and these traditions are evident in their missions and mandates. Such institutions have been successful in bridging scientific expertise, public deliberations and public opinions and in raising awareness of pending societal challenges, thus contributing to an enhanced policy process on complex and controversial issues.

As a rule, however, in countries without well-organized civil societies and where a closed political culture persists, citizens are only sporadically involved in isolated events and participation is dominated by conflicting reactions rather than proactive dialogue with stakeholders. In these more closed decision-making traditions, decision makers rarely rely on wider public input or simply mirror the demands of disorganized, anonymous publics, without real dialogue, analysis or attention to possible impacts. Regrettably, this often translates into the feeling that citizens are being neglected by decision makers and are generally not welcome in the decision-making processes. [3] This is where the build-up of trust in open deliberative processes through concrete experiences is most important and where the hands-on training of practitioners may provide the most value.

For Europe at large, even though traditions and situations vary among countries, seeking larger-scale citizens' involvement with issues that are highly controversial and often not fully understood by decision makers might help reduce complexity and at least help elaborate policy options that can be pursued with a realistic expectation of public acceptance. Organizing such exercises in a manner which coordinates national dialogues to form a European citizens' forum could be viewed as a necessary 'soft' reform of European institutional interaction and a step towards reducing the democratic deficit of the EU.

  • [1] Minutes were taken in national languages and qualitative reports translated to English.
  • [2] Policy report with results comparison functionality are available at citizenconsultation.pacitaproject.eu.
  • [3] An opinion strongly expressed in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary during the national EWViews consultation on 25 October 2014.
 
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