One of the most interesting novelties introduced with the Lisbon Treaty, among the many procedural and institutional improvements, relates to the democratic life of the European Union. Every citizen is formally acknowledged the right “to participate in the democratic life of the Union” – from which derives the institutions’ obligation to ensure that “decisions are taken as openly and as closest as possible to citizens”, while acknowledging that “no less than one million EU citizens across a significant number of Member States” are entitled to formulate proposals for legislative initiatives. This shows that finally the European Union is ready to relinquish its original trait of a union between States. This fact is also underlined by the principle of “participatory democracy”, in the articles regarding the dialogue with civil society and the dialogue with the Churches. This is something new, unheard of in previous national State constitutions, not to mention the international treaties. The two dialogues and the principle on which they repose, aimed at including the opinions, concerns and experiences of two important areas of social life in European institutions’ reflections on the development of policies and legislation, could be taken as models in future constitutional debates. The methods envisaged by participatory democracy are dialogue and consultation. However, the best way to implement these proposals is yet to be developed. Inspiration can be drawn from the longtime informal cooperation between NGOs, along with the activities of Church and religious community bodies represented in Brussels, European services and the decades-long procedures of the European economic and social committee, along with the experience of civil society. Consultation and dialogue do not necessarily entail co-determination and co-decision, since the principle “that EU performance is founded on representative democracy” is still being adopted. Civil society includes associations and organizations supported by the citizens’ commitment in various areas such as voluntary work, and their commitment in social, charitable or cultural sectors. Notwithstanding the fact that citizens’ efforts and activity often contribute to the defense of interests, which are not being championed by MPs, their endeavor often provides insights that could greatly contribute to the development of EU institution regulations, policies and measures. On another level lies the sector that includes the Churches and the religious communities. Also in this case interests are being represented. However, in this case it is a general indication for the questions regarding the significance and ethics of political activity aimed at the union of Europe and its fulfillment. For this reason this area is referred to in an article which states, “Acknowledging their identity and their specific contribution, the EU maintains an open, transparent and ongoing dialogue with these churches and organizations.” Dialogue and consultations mean that the two parties involved, on the one side the European Union and her institutions, on the other civil society organizations, the Churches and the religious communities, must learn to profit from this interaction. It is not only a question of ensuring that political and administrative policies gather information from their partners. An exchange must also take place, a mutual enrichment, to the advantage of all parties involved in the system as a whole, extending to all political, social and spiritual dimensions.
Participatory democracy and Lisbon Treaty