Bailly: The democratic quality of European Citizens’ panels

“The democratic quality of European Citizens’ panels” is an interesting study of the citizen panels convened within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe which took place in 2021. The study by Jessy Bailly involved interviews with dozens of participants in the panels.

The study highlights some of the problems of the lack of an acceptable design, resulting in biased outcomes. Examples of problematic aspects of the design are the use of volunteers, the way the experts are appointed, the overrepresentation of a stratum of their choice (youth in this case), and the lack of transparency of the sortition method.

Some excerpts:

When I surveyed the citizens, many praised the “diversity of people” within the panels. Others emphasised the lack of representativeness of the citizens’ panels, with at least 5 of the 31 citizens interviewed insisting on it. One of them was a German citizen in her 30s: “You should pay attention to a greater diversity of people and not only people who are pro-Europe. There should be a greater selection of different people, different social classes and also religions.” It is worth noting that the “social class” criterion had to be respected (through the prism of occupation). However, no ethnic or religious criteria were considered.

Above all, the ability to speak, which is socially embedded and determined by gender, profession, education and family background, mainly explains the inequalities in speaking time. As already stated, the facilitators tried to rebalance speaking time for all participants, but there were no systematically equal opportunities for speaking.

Turning to the citizens’ assessment of the experts, the most critical citizens were in the minority.

Spanish citizen in his 20s, first session, Panel 1: “I found the experts’ contributions very general; also, the lack of concreteness about what was expected from the participants made the debates a bit sterile, aimless, and boring.”

German citizen in his 30s, first session, Panel 2: “during the 1st session I found that the presentation of the experts was more focused on the topics they wanted to present rather than the questions the citizens wanted to ask.”

Other citizens had more mixed feelings: “The details given by the experts are interesting but too limited” (Belgian citizen in her 70s, 2nd session, Panel 1); “The conversations with the experts should have been longer and maybe we should have heard from more experts” (Bulgarian citizen, in his 20s, 2nd session, Panel 2); “The experts came up with very concrete examples and so the discussions in the group were very much influenced by the examples given” (French citizen in his 30s, 2nd session, Panel 2).

7 Responses

  1. This is why *professional* process management is essential.


  2. Professional process management, as I’m sure Yoram would point out, lends itself to institutional capture by the professional facilitators. If citizens’ panels are to be more than just glorified focus groups, what is called for is *procedural* process management – a transparent process that can in principle satisfy a wide spectrum of political partisans that the panel accurately represents the public and their partisan positions are being fairly represented to the panel. (For it to *actually* satisfy them depends on an underlying cross-partisan agreement that maintaining fair, peaceful, lawful democratic procedures is more important than beating their political opponents, which is not the case in the United States but is still true in much of Europe.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I attended the Liege conference where Jessy originally presented this paper. I was particularly struck by his claim that the Conference on the Future of Europe did not include anyone who was sceptical of the EU project. The only way to overcome this bias would be via quasi-mandatory participation.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. They should fist have an assembly to decide where there should even be an EU at all. But that’s a no-no. There is a basic contradiction in all of this, because the EU project is by its VERY CONSTITUTION and design elitist. You can’t “engagement” wash an institution whose very structure is to take power AWAY from national populations. This was, as pointed out, patently a glorified, shiny focus group. But that’s all anything EU can ever be at this point, given its structure and its very purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The danger, of course, is that the sortition movement is tarnished by association with this sort of project. The conference where this paper was presented was “Against Sortition?”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not so worried about sortition getting tarnished by association. Electoral systems were also used in bowdlerised ways early on. A sortitional institution with real powers would need to be defensible against charges of fraud etc. regardless. More important is that the idea is now widespread enough that people are attacking it. That’s a step forward.


  7. Oliver:> the idea is now widespread enough that people are attacking it. That’s a step forward.

    True. But we need to take the criticisms very seriously — Jessy and Tiago are just the tip of the iceberg.


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