Civil dialogue as well as user involvement are essential tools to ensure that policies and innovations are fully in line with citizens’ real needs and expectations. This should be genuine, i.e. not a tick-box exercise, and guaranteed from the outset.
Therefore, AGE Platform Europe calls on the candidate MEPs to:
6.1 Support civil dialogue as set out in the Lisbon Treaty (Article 11) as a key principle for governance processes at EU level
Background: Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty provides a legal basis for civil dialogue and involves the responsibility of all EU institutions, stating that the institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action, and maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society. Moreover, this article introduced the European citizens’ initiative, which allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal on a specific issue and thus enhance participative democracy. In addition, thanks to article 4.3 of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities, including older persons who face functional limitations, now have a legal right to be actively involved and consulted in all processes and decisions that affect them.
AGE position: AGE welcomes this article as a clear commitment from the EU Member States and institutions to engage in a strong civil dialogue with representative civil society. AGE participates in the implementation of this article by representing the voice of older citizens in EU policy discussions and developments
6.2 Commit with your fellow MEPs to meet annually with civil society organisations in your country to collect their views on all relevant EU dossiers and report on your own actions
AGE position: MEPs are the citizens’ representatives at EU level. AGE believes they should therefore be accountable to EU citizens on their activities. One way to do so is to meet regularly with civil society organisations to report on their activities and to exchange views on all relevant EU dossiers. This would help MEP to represent grass root needs, meet citizens’ expectations and easily report on their work. This would also help consolidate European democracy and improve citizens’ understanding of EU policies and thus support to the EU.
6.3 Require through the European Semester process that Member States consult civil society organisations when they draft their National Reform Programmes, in particular when economic reforms will impact on social inclusion, pensions and health and long-term care
Background: the involvement of social partners and civil society in the European Semester process has been acknowledged in the Conclusions of the European Council of 24-25 March 2011 and in the EP resolution of 26 October 2012 on the European Semester for Economic Policy Coordination: implementation of 2012 priorities. However, these organisations still report a critical lack of consultation at national level when ministries are drafting their National Reform Programmes, underlining either the absence of consultation or symbolic and/or last minute consultations.
AGE position: AGE believes that the involvement of social partners and civil society organisations is essential in the European Semester process, as much upstream when drafting the Annual Growth Survey, when defining the National Reform Programmes and downstream when assessing the implementation of the priorities. A social assessment of the impact of the crisis is indeed needed to be able to take adequate measures and the civil society plays a key role by providing feedback about the situation on the ground.
6.4 Support the use of relevant EU funding instruments to foster older citizens’ active participation in community and volunteer activities
Background: the EU has adopted funding programmes to support citizens’ participation in the community, such as the Europe for Citizens Programme. The aim of this programme is to bring Europe closer to its citizens and to enable them to participate fully in the European construction. Through this programme, citizens have the opportunity to be involved in transnational exchanges and cooperation activities, contributing to developing a sense of belonging to common European ideals and encouraging the process of European integration.
AGE position: AGE strongly supports this Programme and any other funding initiative which support citizens’ engagement and dialogue. We believe that ensuring funding for such activities is essential to ensure that they can effectively reach and involve EU citizens on an equal basis. We recommend MEPs to promote such funding instruments when meeting citizens’ associations.
6.5 Use the existing participatory structures at national level such as citizens’ councils or other local consultative structures to connect older citizens’ groups with their MEPs and other policy-makers
Background: participatory structures are well spread in some countries but less in other. They play a key role to ensure that citizens can voice their needs and expectations outside of electoral periods and offer a legitimate frame for debates and policy monitoring. They are also easily-identified structures for policy-makers, such as MEPs, and guarantee the representation of different interests and opinions.
AGE position: AGE strongly supports the development of such councils as an efficient way to ensure participatory democracy and citizens’ engagement in policy-making processes. AGE members have witnessed successful examples, notably at regional and local levels, which demonstrated valuable contributions to cities’ or regions’ development. However, awareness about such structures has to be raised to ensure wide and balanced representation, and trainings have to be provided on how to participate in policy-making (e.g. legal issues, specific themes such as pension reforms, lobbying techniques).
6.6 Ensure genuine and early user involvement in all relevant EU-funded research activities as a criterion for allocation of EU funding
Background: For some years now, user involvement has become a pre-condition for funding opportunities (Ambient and Assisting Living Joint Programme, 7th Framework Programme for research…). This has allowed a greater awareness of the benefits of involving users in all research developments. However, we already witnessed a regrettable and detrimental use of simple ‘tick-box’ exercise, very far from any form of genuine involvement and unable to make both research and users benefit from the solutions developed.
AGE position: For AGE, user involvement is essential. Skimp on it makes run the risk that researchers miss the point when developing new goods, services or making policy recommendations. Indeed, transforming users into participants ensures relevance and adequacy of these new initiatives, facilitate the anticipation of ethical issues, prepare commercial take-up, and eventually brings more added-value for everyone. To be genuine, user involvement needs effective planning from the outset with adequate time and financial resources. To be effective, users must not bear any cost and researchers/project managers must ensure that there is an adequate evaluation of user involvement and an effective use of users’ feedback.