Citizens trip to Brussels: Figuring out the European Union Institutions
Brussels, 18 November 2012 – As part of the EU Citizens Project, 46 citizens from 6 countries in Europe had the opportunity to travel to Brussels, from the 14 to 16 November 2012, as part of a trip organised to bring citizens closer to the EU institutions and to encourage them to participate.
On the morning of the first day, two groups of citizens started the “lobby tour” in the European quarter of Brussels, listening to explanations from lobby experts, Oliver Hoedeman, Pascoe Sabido and Richard Tabsey of Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). The guided tours through the heart of Brussels permitted citizens to understand the functions of the European Union institutions and to see how physically close they are to the offices of the largest multinational companies and consulting groups or lobby firms. The participants expressed concern about the fact that European officials and lobbyists were potentially holding closed-door meetings, far away from public opinion, including outside of work hours and in non-work locations.
At the same time, the other group of citizens attended face-to-face meetings with public officials and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) where they discussed the functions of the European institutions, the process of drafting and approving of EU laws as well as the responsibility of the various bodies in decision making and the way that lobby groups operate. The Parliamentary Head of Cabinet Amelia Andersdotter and her assistants (Swedish Pirate Party, the Green party) spoke at length about the function of lobby groups, the Parliament and the Commission, and about the role of MEPs assistants. Michael Cashman and his assistant Renaud Raphael Savignat, from the political group the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – spent a large part of the meeting discussing the theme of transparency in the EU, blaming the council of the European Union for the opacity of EU decision-making.
In the afternoon, the citizens were split into groups to participate in one of the workshops organised by the EU Citizens Project Partners. The first workshop, “EU documents and you: unlocking the mysteries of your access rights”, was a detailed session on the procedures to follow for obtaining public EU documents and data. The other workshop, “lobbying transparency: linking national and European campaigns”, invited citizens to brainstorm on a European campaign in favour of more transparency and better lobby practices, inspired by the national campaigns that have been organised in the UK, the Czech Republic and at the EU level.
On the 16 November, the Project partners hosted a public debate titled “Participation, ethics and transparency: what citizens want from Brussels” in the Residence Palace of Brussels. The conference was organised into 2 panels, in which the speakers discussed themes of transparency, participation and ethics in the European Union through different perspectives and proposals. Once again, NGOs and the public called on EU officials to increase transparency and ethics in the EU, starting with an obligatory lobby register to control lobby groups and to dissuade them from using bad practices as well as to permit equal access to the decision making process in Europe for both civil society and private sector lobbies. The citizens commented on the conference through social media in different languages and could ask speakers questions at the end of the panel.
At the end of the trip, the citizens compiled a personal report including their impressions and concerns with regards to the functioning of the European Union institutions which contains their recommendations for the EU policy-makers on how to improve the democratic system of the EU.