"We must reinvent the citizen dialogue" (Axel Dauchez, Make.org)

The Civic Tech, these startups and organizations that give citizens new digital tools to influence the public debate, are mobilizing for the European elections in May. In order to raise citizens' awareness for this traditionally shunned vote, the French platform Make.org, dedicated to debates and citizen proposals, and the pro-European association CIVICO Europa will launch at the beginning of February a major consultation in the 28 Member States of the European Union. Called "WeEuropeans", the initiative aims to rebuild the link between citizens and elected officials. Axel Dauchez, president of Make.org, delivers to La Tribune the ambitions of this consultation.

THE TRIBUNE - Why launched the WeEuropeans initiative?

Axel Dauchez - There is a real concern across Europe about the upcoming European elections and the role of democracy for our future. There are two major risks that can emerge during this election. On the one hand, the expected abstention rate could prove to be historically low [ndlr : lors des dernières élections européennes en 2014, le taux d'abstention était de 57% - un record]. On the other hand, a "référendumisation " of the election would structure the debate around a "for or against Europe"thus erasing any constructive dialogue.

This election comes at an extremely critical time, when many international blocs have the will to destroy Europe. Not to mention that it takes place after the Brexit, at a time when there is a crisis of confidence of Europe coupled with a rather gloomy economic context. With such exceptional components, it will be a key vote that requires massive mobilization at the height of the stakes.

What is the consultation organized by Make.org and CIVICO Europa?

We first launched an appeal to civil society in December, supported by 200 European personalities [ndlr : comme Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ancien président du groupe "Verts" au Parlement européen; Laurent Berger, secrétaire général de la Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT), mais aussi des dirigeants comme Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, Pdg de BNP Paribas, ou des écrivains comme l'Italien Roberto Saviano].

From 1 February, a consultation will be launched with more than 200 million Europeans around a single open question: "How to reinvent Europe concretely?". This is a primary way of fighting abstention and mobilizing voters for this election. We will carry out media campaigns to obtain representative participations by country, by regions in countries, by age group and genre. We should mobilize between 5 to 10 million Europeans and collect 100,000 proposals for a constructive reflection on the future of Europe. The proposals will then be grouped by ideas and put to the vote for national and pan-European consensus.

On 22 March, we are holding a meeting in the European Parliament with the citizens-authors of the consensus and all the European political parties. The idea is to refocus the debate on what brings us together, rather than what separates us. A restitution of the debates will be made on May 9 at the last Council of Europe before the elections.

The Civic Tech are a great success at the local level, where the dialogue between elected officials and citizens seems to be the most preserved. Will it be more difficult to mobilize at European level?

Civic Tech act on different pieces of permanent democracy. It is true that so far, what works best is the acceleration of local democracy with participatory budgets, neighborhood committees ... At national and European level, the stakes are different: we do not not in improvement, but in the rescue of our democratic principles. Local democracy is for the moment the level at which relations are going relatively well, but that will only take a while. We will soon have the same rate of disaffection and crisis of confidence locally as nationally. This is why we need to reinvent citizen dialogue at all levels.

I do not think it will be more difficult to mobilize at European level because the political fact is global. At the local level, there is certainly a proximity but we are very aware of the general interest for our own interests! On the contrary, at European and national level, citizens care about their environment and the democratic springs are stronger.

One of the flagship claims of the "Yellow Vests" is the holding of a citizens' initiative referendum to "give back to the people". What role can Civic Tech play to restore dialogue between elected officials and citizens?

We launched Make.org in 2016 on a dramatic weakening of democratic power. It is now considered to be ineffective in acting on the real - and that's what we've been hearing for 20 years. This takes a radical form with the "Yellow Vests", who absolutely no longer believe in the representative system as such. This is the source of our concern and motivation.

"Yellow Vests" is an authentically popular but undemocratic movement in its operation and interaction with institutions. Necessarily, they find themselves frontally on the street with an outcome never satisfactory for anyone. On the other hand, if we help movements such as "yellow jackets" to have a lasting and continuous interaction with the institutions, then we will be rebuilding a democratic debate that is no longer played by parties and unions, but who can exist directly between institutions and citizen movements.

We bring a reactivation of democracy through the involvement of citizens at all levels (consultation, juries citizens, referendums ...) It is not a question of starting from scratch and overhauling all of our institutions. Citizens must reclaim institutions and regain the sense of permanent democracy. Between elections, there must be a continuous exchange between citizens and elected officials to recreate the link.