The political construction of the ‘citizen turn’ in the EU: disintermediation and depoliticisation in the Conference on the Future of Europe

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Alvaro Oléart
Journal of Contemporary European Studies


The EU has recently organised a series of ‘citizen-centred’ processes that may be indicative of a new pattern in terms of democracy and participation. The article begins with this observation in order to pose the following question: to what extent the introduction of ‘citizen participation’ mechanisms in the Conference on the Future of Europe reflects a rupture with the EU’s dominant understanding of democracy? While there are innovative elements in the Conference, which are described in detail, the article develops a normative critique of the underlying philosophy with which it was organised and constructed, as it followed an alternative legitimacy logic that fundamentally deviates from an agonistic public sphere perspective. The Conference illustrates a ‘citizen turn’ that breaks away from the ‘participatory turn’ described by Saurugger (2010) in that it decouples ‘citizen participation’ from civil society and the idea of a European public sphere, both in discursive terms as well as in the ensuing political practices. The article concludes with a wider conceptualisation of what the ‘citizen turn’ means for EU democracy, and why the disintermediation of European politics is coherent with the preexistent depoliticised EU political dynamics, conceived in the case of the Conference as ‘democracy without politics’.