On 8th of December a multi-stakeholder conference “Enabling Civil e-Participation in Europe” was organised in the European Parliament. The half-day event followed by a networking cocktail was hosted by two MEPs: Mr György Schöpflin (EPP, Hungary) and Ms Marju Lauristin (S&D, Estonia). Eight high-level speakers presented their views and experiences in two panels: 1) The role of ICT in active citizenship and 2) Digital literacy, access and provision of e-services.
The conference brought together policy-makers, EU officials, e-participation experts and civic activists at national and EU levels to discuss democratic participation in the digital age. It was also a unique opportunity for the European digital inclusion sector to exchange achievements and ideas with policy makers at EU and national levels. As e-participation means providing equal opportunities for participation to all EU citizens, our target groups involved also potentially vulnerable groups of European citizens, including socially disadvantaged citizens and persons with disabilities.
MEP Lauristin (S&D, Estonia) is coming from one of the most digitally advanced EU Member States, Estonia, where policies are also targeted at different groups of citizens with less resources and access to online tools. “We have taught e-skills in rural schools, trained retired people through partnerships with private companies and made sure that the means to reach internet are available to all by improving infrastructure and offering free Wi-Fi in rural areas”, shares MEP Lauristin. She emphasized that digital inclusion means equality: “…the heart of the social democratic digital policy is in equality. Without equal access and equal opportunities we end up with policies that only serve a selected group. But by ensuring infrastructure, education and training we can make sure that the market policies have subsequently a much wider effect.”
MEP Lauristin gave us examples of some of the best practices in e-services implemented in Estonia such as available e-health solutions, widespread use of digital signature, which not only, as she says, brings efficiency and, thus, gives people more time to do other things like work or spend time with their families. Moreover, some of these e-Participation tools can work for “truly wide democracy”. She presented crowdsourcing as an innovative tool that has been recently used in Estonia to push for a reform of electoral laws. “Seven of the fifteen proposals the online platform eventually made to the national Parliament were adopted into Estonian laws”, MEP Lauristin emphasized. NGOs and grassroots movements play their role in the process as intermediary bodies. She explained that the crowdsourcing initiative mentioned, ‘Rahvakogu’, had been put in action by NGOs.
As a policy maker, MEP Schöpflin (EPP, Hungary) has been contributing to making online tools for e-Participation and e-services available to more European citizens through encouraging the development of digital citizenship and social media. “Access to information creates ever wider possibilities for debate and participation, as well as challenging conventional wisdom, thereby enhancing innovation”, stated MEP Schöpflin about the big potential that e-services and e-Participation tools could provide to citizens in a digital society. There are many different societal groups that are excluded such as migrants, young people, those living in rural areas and all of them need support to get online and start exercising their rights and actively communicate with their officials. MEP Schöpflin has directed his efforts in working with the elderly for digital inclusion. He concluded with the fact that if policy makers are going to work towards diminishing the gap among the different EU Member States in terms of using e-services and attracting citizens, “investment in the cognitive, semantic and intellectual capacities of society” needs to be made.
Simon Delakorda (Institute for Electronic Participation, Slovenia) presented the civil e-participation experience in Slovenia (NGOs as champions of e-participation development, examples (online forums, e-petitions), impact on government e-participation); EU e-participation project Puzzled by Policy – key results, sustainability of the project (process management and facilitation, user-centric attitude, feedback and impact), civil dialogue (partnership with mediators); recommendations on e-Participation in the EU – involving NGOs as partners and end users.
Assya Kavrakova (European Citizen Action Service, Belgium) provided examples of digital democracy; digital e-participation of youth; new opportunities for civil society e-participation which goes beyond consultations – an example of crowdsourcing platform for legislation at EU level; digital psychology tools; how to raise awareness and trigger involvement of young people in policy making processes.
Kristina Reinsalu (E-governance academy, Estonia) provided NGO best practices from Estonia, crowdsourcing project – legal amendments; development of ICT-tools, Estonian show cases and lessons learned.
Gwendolyn Carpenter (Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Denmark) presented practices of social innovation; the role of the civil society sector in e-governance – NGOs as intermediate bodies between citizens and governments; how NGOs can raise awareness and successfully participate in the process – examples from her work.
Alejandro Moledo (European Disability Forum, Belgium) provided the perspective of civil society organisations working with people with disabilities; access to e-services and digital inclusion for people with disabilities.
Gerhard Seiler presented the work of the Stiftung Digitale Chancen as a project partner of the E-uropa project. He focused on access to online tools by the elderly: accessible tools, digital media literacy and competencies; safe environment to use online tools.
The event directly involved approximately 60 participants from at least 17 countries, including Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. Organisers received 100 registrations, however during those weeks the high security alert in Belgium prevented many of the registered international participants to travel to Brussels.
The highlight of the conference was its closing session where the “My e-Participation Story” award winners were announced and called to the stage.
|12.30 – 13.00 Registration|
|13.00 – 13.10 Opening session: MEP Schöpflin, AFCO rapporteur on ECI (EPP Hungary)|
|13.10 – 14.20 First panel discussion: The role of ICT in active citizenship (speakers and Q&A session)
Moderator: György Schöpflin, MEP EPP, AFCO rapporteur on ECI
|14.20 – 14.30 Coffee break|
|14.30– 15.45 Second panel discussion: Digital literacy, access and provision of e-services (speakers and Q&A session)
Moderator: Marju Lauristin, MEP, Vice-Chair of the S&D Group
|15.45 – 16.00 Closing remarks and presentation of the winners of the online competition My e-Participation story:
|16.00 – 17.00 Cocktail in the EP|