Stephen Boucher proposes “an EU Collective Intelligence Forum”

Stephen Boucher, managing director of Fondation EURACTIV, writes on Carnegie Europe, the website of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Whatever the analytical debates over Europe’s democratic deficiencies, citizens certainly feel that EU decisionmaking is remote and often impenetrable. Unless some tangible and high-profile initiatives are forthcoming, the EU will remain more remote and complex for the average citizen than public authorities closer to home. Busy citizens will not engage with broader European politics unless they feel that their voices have a good chance of being heard.

The endless aim to “communicate Europe better” is one facet of this predicament. Despite the EU’s focus on glitzy communication gimmicks, dedicated television channels, enticing Facebook pages, and the promise of Citizens’ Dialogues in which EU commissioners meet with citizens around the member states, many Europeans frequently feel that they have little to no influence over this particular level of international governance.

To address this problem, Boucher offers some ideas, one of which is what he calls “an EU Collective Intelligence Forum”.

A yearly Deliberative Poll could be run on a matter of significance, ahead of key EU summits and possibly around the president of the commission’s State of the Union address. On the model of the first EU-wide Deliberative Poll, Tomorrow’s Europe, this event would bring together in Brussels a random sample of citizens from all twenty-seven EU member states, and enable them to discuss various social, economic, and foreign policy issues affecting the EU and its member states. This concept would have a number of advantages in terms of promoting democratic participation in EU affairs. By inviting a truly representative sample of citizens to deliberate on complex EU matters over a weekend, within the premises of the European Parliament, the European Parliament would be the focus of a high-profile event that would draw media attention.

But no need for the elites to be apprehensive. The idea is not to force popular decisions upon them, but rather the other way around – to make citizens see sense.

[U]nlike Tomorrow’s Europe, the poll [should not be] held at arm’s length by EU policymakers, but with high-level national officials attending to witness good-quality deliberation remolding citizens’ views.

And in any case, no binding decisions, or even semi-binding decisions, should be made.

Such a format would not be heavily prescriptive, yet it would be helpful to policymakers. It would not generate a set of recommendations that politicians feel they have to adopt or reject. Rather, it would provide a snapshot of what people really think is achievable with collaborative effort. This is qualitatively different from a simple survey. By comparing the opinions expressed in a poll taken at the outset of the Deliberative Poll and a second poll at the end of the event, policymakers could gain a sense of how citizens’ preferences may change when they have had a chance to come together, compare views, and access the full range of opinions on a given matter.

The commission, the parliament, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, and member states should pool interpretation, logistical, and some financial resources to organize such a yearly moment of collective intelligence. Tomorrow’s Europe and subsequent Deliberative Polls show that this format can be done well and put to good use.

2 Responses

  1. Yoram:> The idea is not to force popular decisions upon them, but rather the other way around – to make citizens see sense.

    That’s actually not such a bad idea, judging by this article in the Sunday Times by the Sky News political editor, Adam Boulton, The people have spoken in local elections: they don’t know what they want. The article paints a picture of overriding divisions within elites and also within the demos, and undermines the simple binary distinction (between “the elite” and “the masses”) repeated ad nauseam on this forum by Yoram Gat. A similar analysis would apply to US politics and there is no reason to believe that a switch to democracy-by-minipublic would resolve the differences that are an inherent characteristic of large multicultural states.

    Exhausted English voters will be relieved that they have done their electoral duty for this year with last week’s council elections. There should be no reason for them to be summoned to the polls again in 2018 — unless, of course, Theresa May’s government falls over Brexit and yet another general election is precipitated before its due date.

    On the other side of the divide, brawling politicians might conclude that elections aren’t much help anyway as they survey the bloody stalemate on the council battleground. The UK remains politically paralysed. Neither of the two dominant partners is offering sufficiently persuasive arguments to command a majority in parliament.

    Voting analysis by Professor Michael Thrasher confirms that the UK is bogged down more firmly than ever in hung parliament territory. Last Thursday’s voting pattern would have increased Labour’s tally of MPs from the 2017 general election but it would still lie well behind the Conservatives.

    Both main parties would have fewer than 300 MPs, well short of the 326 required for an overall majority. More unsettling still, neither party would be able to form a stable coalition or minority government with the support of just one other party. There would have to be some sort of rainbow coalition. Bye-bye, Mrs May’s cosy deal with the 10 DUP members.

    It is wrong to extrapolate too precisely from local to national elections, but history does suggest broad trends. An opposition that is heading into government, such as Tony Blair’s before 1997 or David Cameron’s before 2010, usually does much better than Labour managed this time. Jeremy Corbyn won’t be the next prime minister unless his party can break through in many of the target constituencies in which it fell short last Thursday.

    The modest overall swing to Labour from the Conservatives would have cost the former home secretary Amber Rudd her marginal seat in Hastings and Rye, along with a dozen or so Tory colleagues. But Labour would still have fallen short in Telford, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Morley and Outwood, Copeland, Watford, Pendle and Putney.

    The paralysis spreads beyond the body politic to the most important issue our elected politicians should be dealing with — implementing the referendum vote to leave the European Union.

    None of the dozens of politicians I spoke to in the election aftermath expects either Labour or Conservatives to switch from their position of studied ambiguity as the clock ticks towards Brexit. This verdict from the electorate offers no guidance as to what the politicians should do.

    Analysis by Professor Will Jennings of Southampton University finds that the concentration of leave or remain voters in any area had next to no impact on the level of support for Labour. The Tory vote did improve in Brexit areas, but largely because the party harvested most of the large Ukip vote of four years ago. Any Conservatives who take that as grounds to stiffen their Brexit stance should take into account the recovery by the Liberal Democrats.

    England’s third force didn’t do well only in strong Tory-leaning remainer areas such as Kingston upon Thames, Richmond upon Thames and South Cambridgeshire. They held their own in leave-voting areas such as Eastleigh, in Hampshire, and Sutton, in southwest London.

    Mrs May’s grip on office has been strengthened by the Conservative result. It could have been much worse, or so Tory expectation managers would have us believe. No wonder the PM rushed round the country “celebrating”, from Wandsworth, where the Conservatives had merely hung on, to Dudley, where they blocked Labour from taking overall control.

    Yet just as the prime minister’s position stabilises, her party’s civil war is sapping her ability to exercise power. Tory business managers are desperately trying to delay any serious parliamentary votes on Brexit until after the summer recess because they can’t be sure of winning in the Commons. Indeed a growing number of MPs on all sides shake their heads and say they cannot see any form of agreement that could command the support of a majority.

    The concerted effort by 60 Tory backbenchers and, it appears, most of the cabinet’s Brexit committee to kill the option of a customs “arrangement” only makes it less likely that an agreement will be reached with the EU and, if it is, that it will be backed by MPs.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere in parliament, the Lords are busily laying down an assault course of tripwires. The rebels in ermine are confident that on Tuesday peers will vote for the UK to join the European Economic Area — a Norway-style way of managing our relationship with the EU — which the government would then have to persuade MPs to unravel.

    On the Labour side there is a similar sapping of confidence in the leadership of Mr Corbyn both among MPs, most of whom have never been his fans, and in areas where his acolytes have been most visibly active.

    Centrist Labour MPs continue to vote with their feet. The one-time leadership favourite Dan Jarvis MP is defying party injunctions against dual office-holding by securing a second base as mayor of the Sheffield City Region. The former shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander is ready to give up her Lewisham East Commons seat as the latest New Labour refugee to seek sanctuary in local government, in her case under the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, at City Hall.

    Evidently Mr Khan is in need of assistance. The London boroughs have not gone uniformly red, as he predicted. Labour lost out in Barnet, its No 1 council target in the capital, where the Tories took overall control. The defeated Labour candidates blame Corbyn’s failure to deal convincingly with anti-semitism.

    In neighbouring Haringey, Momentum has been busy forcing out long-standing Labour councillors, including the former council leader Claire Kober, ousted over her plan for a public-private partnership to bring new social housing to the borough. Labour still won the council, but the Lib Dems took half a dozen seats from it.

    As Mr Corbyn stumbles on his long march to power, no one in Labour can credibly claim: “We are all Corbynistas now.” The real debate is over which of the two main parties of government is more split: the Tories over Europe, or Labour over the leadership and Europe. Mrs May’s best chance of getting a Brexit deal through the Commons may well be in mastering an alliance of convenience of rebels from both parties — Tories who disagree with their party’s official line on Europe and Labour MPs who want to deny Corbyn the chance of coming to power in a snap election.

    City v town and country. Old v young. Leaver v remainer. England is polarised. The collective wisdom of the voters has not found an answer to the nation’s challenges. Instead, for want of a better idea, the voters are leaving the politicians to fight it out among themselves.


  2. […] continued to express their dissatisfaction with the way elections are turning out. A proposal was made to use sortition to improve citizen behavior. Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown made a similar […]


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