Mobilising Participation in the European Project

Participation in the European Project: How to mobilise citizens at the Local, Regional, National and European Levels
Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (IES - VUB Brussel)
Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Denmark


The overall purpose of this project is to examine the different forms of participation at local, regional, national and European level across the 27 member states of the European Union. The objective is to focus on local and regional authorities and their understanding and knowledge on the issue. We wish to:

  • examine the manner in which political participation and democratic legitimacy have evolved and are currently exercised in the Member States of the EU
  • investigate the potentials for new forms of participation, developed into a set of concrete proposals for action
  • evaluate the current and prospective activities and identify challenges and opportunities for communication policy at European level
  • highlight the relevance of and to build upon previous research.

We will discuss the role and potential for the European Public Sphere(s), and consider the need to address and promote understanding of the principles of subsidiarity and coordination. The study will also consider the meaning of community in describing European political issues. For this, we focus on communities of space, interest, and culture. Thus, an issue-based as well as a traditional territorial approach will be taken.

The context

Democratic participation is currently a highly discussed topic, especially in the context of the European Union. This can be accounted for by a number of reasons, and one of the aims of this study is to highlight and identify areas where it is challenged, and also to reveal and share cases where these are overcome. Some initial thoughts on the process of democratic participation in the EU lead us to consider:

firstly, when politicians talk about participation and democratic legitimacy, they generally tend to assume that current institutional frameworks are suitable for engagement with citizens - this should not be treated as a given.
secondly, politicians tend to conflate different stages in the policy cycle, which leads to confusion on the part of citizens.
thirdly, the role of the media, which is still predominantly national (and hardly European at all) plays a vital role in shaping the perceptions of European citizens.

The study will address, elaborate upon, and identify other challenges to participation and democratic legitimacy in far greater detail.


Our approach contests that democratic activity starts at the local level, and only uses a loose coordinating role at the European level. With such an assumption, we can start to build up understanding of the EU’s role in European policymaking processes at all levels of government that can be easily and effectively communicated to citizens, in order to avoid, or respond to, some criticisms of the democratic deficit in European politics.

The major different methods employed in the execution of this research project are:

  1. Literature review
  2. Interviews with stakeholders (and subsequent creation of an actor map), carried out by means of field trips
  3. Overviews of all 27 EU member states (in the form of brief country sheets)
  4. One-day workshop with civil society / local government representatives in Brussels (evaluation and validation).

Contact & downloads

Dr. Jamal Shahin,, +447851235307 for more information.

Download the report [click here].