One of the proposals made in E3G’s pamphlet ‘Europe in the World: political choices for security and prosperity’ is that of a pan-European participative budget.This article provides a quick review of the pamphlet proposal.
A democratic European budget
There is no greater demonstration of the seriousness of an institution than the way in which it raises and spends its money. The current EU budget fails on both counts – the different EU institutions are not directly accountable for how money is raised, nor have the outcomes of previous budget setting exercises actually reflected the priorities of citizens.
All too often, budget setting has been an exercise in the defence of historical political trade-offs between the different vested interests of member states, rather than a division of resources according to the challenges facing Europe. The budget is truly a reflection of past political horse-trading, not future political priorities.
Citizen influence required
If this continued betrayal of citizens’ interests is to be avoided, citizens themselves must be able to shape the political context of future EU budgets. The spending review due to be undertaken in 2008-09 should therefore incorporate a European-wide participative budgeting process.
This citizen input should begin during 2007 with a series of pan-European deliberative activities. These should identify citizen priorities for EU spending, providing policy makers with an initial indication of levels of public support for different EU actions. The European Commission should incorporate these views into its review of the EU budget and seek further deliberative input on specific citizen concerns.
European Parliament Election Day
Then, on the day of the elections to the European Parliament in June 2009, all voters should be enabled to contribute their perspective on the budget review proposals by ranking their preferences for EU spending. This should be for issues which have direct financial impacts for their region and member state, and also for those policies related to the EU’s role in the world. Results should be reported by electoral region and member state as well as a European average.
Making budget changes real
MEPs elected on that day should then take responsibility for engaging their constituents with the subsequent discussions in the EU institutions as to the future shape of the EU budget. Member state officials and political leaders will also have to justify their negotiating positions in the light of these citizen preferences. The European Parliament should act on behalf of citizens to ensure that Europe’s budget review reflects their wishes and provides added value to European cooperation; serving in this role as facilitators between institutions and citizens in all future EU budget exercises.
Engaging European citizens directly in the budget review would be the most concrete and meaningful extension of citizen participation in European democracy. It would provide a real demonstration that European institutions are accountable to the views of citizens.