Europe is setting out on a year-long consultation process to empower its citizens to determine our future EU policy strategy.
Some recent experiences would rightly make me feel uneasy. When the UK government, for example, consulted its citizens to name its new polar research vessel, an overwhelming majority demanded that the ship be christened: Boaty McBoatface (garnering four times the votes of the second choice). Then there was the time when the French government set up its “Citizens’ Convention for Climate“, and one of the key recommendations this citizens’ panel demanded was to ban the rollout of 5G. So why on earth are the European Parliament, Council and Commission launching the Conference on the Future of Europe – a one year Europe-wide participatory experiment that can only end embarrassingly badly?
Because the activists and the NGOs see this as an opportunity to manipulate the European decision-making process. These ideologues are well-skilled at amplifying their minority views to push a radical agenda … putting EU authorities then into difficult positions (unless they share that agenda and wish to use this as a means to impose changes most Europeans would suffer from).
Activists have been calling for more citizen’s panels, citizen science and public assemblies for the last decade. This is code for diluting the voice of science, evidence and expertise in the decision-making process (or rather, excluding the voices of other stakeholder groups with whom they disagree). Extinction Rebellion campaigned to neuter the democratic process, leaving governments to simply implement expected anti-capitalist pronouncements of some randomly-selected Citizens’ Assembly. Corporate Europe Observatory and Friends of the Earth tried to hype up a few Monsanto emails to demand the European risk assessment process be replaced by citizen scientists (ie, their activists).
About the Conference
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a year-long series (beginning this week) of citizen panels and forums to offer the European Parliament, Commission and Council concrete policy measures on issues from climate change to social fairness to the EU’s role in the world. These three institutions will act as a “Joint Chairmanship” managing the different panels and assemblies. It is meant to be a citizen-focused, bottom-up exercise to establish the wishes and interests of the European population.
The chairmanship anticipates a mix of physical gatherings, online events and votes to provide concrete recommendations for future EU policies. It promises to extend across all 27 Member States covering a diversity of the European population over a series of themes. At this point the mechanics get a bit foggy (especially on their proposed feedback mechanism) but please note that, to this date, no one has asked the Risk-Monger to participate (quelle surprise). I suspect communications will not reach far out of the connected networks demanding change … so only those motivated (and angry) will receive and answer the call. Many of these zealots have no qualms about acting with disregard to other views.
There will be, over the course of the year, plenary meetings to put forward more concrete proposals. These plenaries will involve members of the chairmanship and other “key stakeholders” (ie, NGOs) and will be considered like any other policy proposals. It is hard to imagine how the voice of the actual European population will be heard through the filters of loud activist groups representing small sectors of the public.
The Liquidation of Leadership
I have written often on how the precautionary principle usurps any pretence of leadership or regulatory responsibility and accountability. By claiming precaution, policymakers are simply refusing to act on a technology or product and applying impossible conditions on innovators and entrepreneurs in the hope they will go away. I fear that this reliance on citizens’ panels and some joint participatory chairmanship will further erode any modicum of European leadership. Let some contrived public tell us what to do (… and then we will follow their lead, cherry pick and then execute).
Leaders need to make hard decisions weighing the benefits and risks based upon the best available evidence; general populations don’t think that way. Asking an ad hoc group of risk-averse docilians with time on their hands to tell our leadership what to do is anything but responsible and accountable. It is one further lamentable milestone of how European leadership has declined into a hollow shell of ineptitude. It is what would happen if our leaders lost inspiration, conviction and legitimacy. This is, sadly, where Brussels is today (devoid of ideas, credibility and direction).
After the first year and a half of the von der Leyen cabinet, I would have to conclude that that is pretty well the state of things. Leadership has left the building and we have abandoned thought and insight to a random group of dogmatic activists and ideologues easily influencing (scaring) other panel participants with no technical understanding or interest in the potential negative consequences. They are lacking in insight, expertise or experience (but they may have dreams). European leadership has been put on sale (liquidated) to the loudest bidder.
A Toothless Stunt (or Sheep with Fangs)?
What will this lame policy PR stunt produce over the course of the next twelve months? As expertise and evidence will largely be sidelined, as most panel members will have generalist backgrounds and as fear of unknown technologies, uncertain risks and scientific innovations will hang over the discussions, it is likely that the recommendations will be backward looking rather then solution driven. Hazards will be identified for removal rather than risks managed to increase public benefits.
This is the poison of the precautionary mindset. If there is uncertainty, stop whatever is going on and return to safer ground. So we can expect such citizens’ panels to recommend:
- restrictions on agritechnologies
- making air travel and road transport costlier
- abandoning natural gas and nuclear energy
- limiting food production innovations
- increasing obstacles for chemical and pharmaceutical innovations to gain regulatory approval
- levying higher taxes and restrictions on industry, trade and capital
- and there might even be some wildcards (like banning 5G and vaccines).
The goal then of the Conference on the Future of Europe would be to legitimise activist precautionary strategies.
If experts were consulted on how to address these challenges, they would likely recommend entirely different actions.
- Agritech would be enhanced to produce more food on less land, returning less productive land to nature.
- Incentives for lower carbon transportation measures would be set up with more research and development of hydrogen-based energy solutions and next-generation nuclear reactors.
- Europe’s innovative sectors would be encouraged and properly rewarded as we face the coming challenges with creative solutions.
This is a future of Europe I would welcome but one that a risk-averse citizen-based approach is programmed to reject.
The real risk of course is that the panels will not actually be a fair sampling of the European population at all but rather occupied by a disproportionate number of activist ideologues pushing their agenda (sheep with fangs). The NGOs were campaigning for this Conference as a means to control the agenda so it is highly unlikely they would seek to ensure a fair representation. And at the end, whatever they achieve will not be enough and the activists will continue the fight if their objectives are not implemented. Our European authorities think this engagement process is going to help build trust in our institutions. How do you spell “Stupid”?
What if real voices were heard?
- Imagine if Europe’s 12 million farmers joined together in the Conference on the Future of Europe and demanded that glyphosate be reauthorised for 15 years.
- What if the 1.7 million employees working for the European chemical industry voted en masse to demand a rational evaluation of the hazard-based precautionary approach? Add other industries and they could easily get 20 million votes.
- Should every working European have a voice on the economic and employment threats from the imposition of the Green New Deal? Why not have a citizens’ panel of three million unemployed people to help design future economic policies?
Why wouldn’t this happen if, numerically, the European population were fairly represented? The process has been fixed to actually avoiding having to hear what Europeans really want. The vast majority of people whose voices should count, are either uninformed or too busy or preoccupied to get involved. Activists are passionate about imposing their ideologies on others and will more likely commit to any long consultation processes. Also, most participants in any well-distributed public assemblies would lack the expertise to make informed decisions. When you are not certain, precaution would be the safe choice.
What the crafters of this “Conference” had failed to consider is how diverse Europe is. Asking for citizens to voice their aspirations will lead to many contradictory conclusions. German participants will expect Europe to strive to be nuclear-free, but not the French; Scandinavians will want to put restrictions on certain types of travel and tourism, but not the Spanish, Greek or Italian conferences; the French will choose to impose stricter controls on pharmaceutical companies and vaccine makers, but that concern will not likely be voiced by Belgian or Swedish participants. So failure seems to be baked into most policy threads.
Missing this point of the diversity of Europe is unsurprising as many EU thinkers and strategists are overcome with bias built on the notion of some trans-European intelligentsia founded on the 18th century model of an Enlightened class of aristocrats roaming the salons and palaces of Europe’s capitals. But 250 years ago, they knew better than to empower the peasants (even after they stormed the Bastille).
I really hope some reasonable heads in Brussels will prevail and next year, when the recommendations hit the fan, that there will be a process for politely shelving ridiculous ideological pipe-dreams. What a waste of time.