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Monday 29 May 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# Speaking out
Irish citizens' assemblies part of inspiration for EU-wide panels starting this weekend
A series of four EU citizens’ panels will run over the next few months – with one taking place in Dublin.

CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLIES IN Ireland and other EU countries sparked inspiration for a European-wide series of citizens’ panels on topics such as migration taking place from this weekend.

Four panels – each with 200 EU citizens – will address topics like climate change and European democracy over a number of different dates in the months ahead.

The panel focused on EU in the world and migration will discuss objectives for areas like security and humanitarian aid, and will relate to how the EU should deal with migration – a key topic in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis and people fleeing Afghanistan. 

The European Parliament chair to the Conference on the Future of Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, told The Journal that citizens’ assemblies in countries like Ireland were the inspiration to hold them on a wider basis.

“The fact that it was used in Ireland, and used in France, and used in a number of other countries was inspiration to say ‘could we repeat that but on the pan-European level?’” he said. 

plenary-session-european-parliament DPA / PA Images File image of Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Ireland has conducted a number of citizens’ assemblies on issues like the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, climate change and gender equality

Verhofstadt, an MEP and former prime minister of Belgium, said this is the first time such panels have been held on a Europe-wide level.

Eurobarometer surveys are often used to gauge citizen opinions, but he claimed that “this is different”.

“This is not a listening exercise to citizens, this is citizens participating in a decision-making process.”

The panel topics are: stronger economy and jobs, European democracy and security, climate change and health, and EU in the world/migration.

Some of the panels will be held online and others will be held in different European cities – including one in Dublin in December. 

The first session focused on the economy took place yesterday in Strasbourg in France and will continue across the weekend.

citizens-assembly Sam Boal File image from the Irish citizens' assembly on climate change in 2017. Sam Boal

800 EU citizens (16 from Ireland) were chosen randomly to partake in the panels over the coming months. They are said to be representative in terms of country, gender, socioeconomic background and education.

At least one-third of the participants are also under the age of 25. 

“This doesn’t replace representative democracy but it is complementary to representative democracy,” Verhofstadt said.  

In terms of the real-life impacts of the recommendations, he said he would like to see them impacting the next European Parliament elections in 2024.

The panel on European democracy will address topics like elections, participation outside election periods and the perceived distance between citizens and politicians. 

Each panel will elect 20 representatives to showcase their recommendations to politicians. 

Speaking at a press conference earlier this week in Strasbourg, Verhofstadt said: “I think that what we are going to see is, I hope, that participatory and direct democracy can find a balance and can work together with representative democracy.

“The uniqueness of the process is that you have this direct participatory democracy and that is now an obligation of the process for the representatives of the representative democracy to respond to that, and that is what we never did in the past.”


Verhofstadt is also the former chair of the EU’s Brexit steering group. 

He told The Journal that he hopes the Brexit Adjustment Fund – approved this week by the European Parliament – will help countries like Ireland mitigate the impacts of Brexit. 

Ireland will receive €1 billion as part of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve approved by MEPs this week. 

The fund, worth €5 billion in total, is aimed at helping EU countries deal with the immediate impact of Brexit. 

“It depends naturally also on how many times from the British side they will again decide to not implement what they have agreed,” Verhofstadt said. 

He added that the EU will likely “always be ready to mitigate the consequences for countries and companies impacted by Brexit” 

“That has been the line from day one.” 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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