Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Reconnecting the European Union with the citizens it represents

A series of crises has pushed apart the EU and its citizens. Rather than becoming disillusioned, citizens have increasingly high expectations for the EU and are looking for ways to become more involved. The EU-funded RECONNECT project has developed policy proposals, tools and solutions that can help improve the relationship between the EU and those it represents.

©diy13 #560319869 source: 2023

PDF Basket

No article selected

Over the course of the past decade, Europe has faced a financial crisis, a sovereign debt crisis, and a still-evolving migration crisis, not to mention a number of security challenges. Even while dealing with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, a war is now raging on Europe’s doorstep, triggering an unprecedented energy crisis.

The net result of these crises is a growing distrust towards European institutions. “Especially in the context of recent crises, the EU has not always been able to truly respond to the concerns of its citizens,” says Jan Wouters, director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies and professor at KU Leuven.

But are citizens becoming opposed to the idea of European Union? New research by the EU-funded RECONNECT project suggests the answer is no. In fact, based on extensive citizen surveys and media analysis, the opposite is true.

“Our research shows that, overall, citizens are not becoming more opposed to European integration,” adds Wouters, who served as the project’s coordinator. “Rather, they have very high expectations for the EU, expectations that are not always being met.”

Rather than becoming disillusioned, citizens want to turn their frustration into action, and are looking for ways to reconnect with the EU.

Turning research into action

The project first translated its research into concrete policy recommendations for changing the EU’s foundational treaties. These include, for instance, bringing EU decision-making closer to voters by equipping the European Parliament with legislative initiative power.

“The European Parliament should be recognised as the beating heart of EU democracy, and its role reimagined in light of this centrality,” notes Axel Marx, deputy director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, who served as the project’s research manager. “This would help boost recognition and feelings of representation among citizens.”

RECONNECT also showed that the democratic nature of the Union needs deepening, which can be done by linking EU institutions more closely to citizens and by strengthening civil society. “Citizens want to have a say in European decision-making, and the engagement of citizens needs to be systematic,” says Marx.

The project also took steps to help reinvigorate the European idea itself, writing a new narrative aimed at rooting the principles of democracy and the rule of law directly in citizens’ everyday lives.

“The protection of the rule of law should be made more transparent and accountable, involving citizens directly and through a more prominent role of the European Parliament,” explains Marx.

Delivering greater democracy

The RECONNECT project also developed solutions capable of connecting citizens to government. One of those is its massive open online course (MOOC). The freely accessible online platform provides courses on the EU’s core values of democracy and the rule of law, and has already reached over 2 500 learners from 90 different countries. 

“A more central role for European citizens goes hand-in-hand with greater efforts to inform citizens on the functioning of the EU and the ideas behind the European project,” explains Alex Andrione-Moylan, a KU Leuven researcher involved in the project. “RECONNECT was therefore absolutely committed to contributing to better education on EU issues.”

Along these same lines, the project also established a Youth Resource Centre, which provides easy-to-grasp information on key EU topics to primary and secondary school students.

RECONNECT has provided an ambitious but viable path forward to rethinking Europe in such a way that not only do citizens feel better represented, but their views, concerns and aspirations are truly taken into account.

“While its impact may only emerge gradually, the tools that RECONNECT developed are uniquely well-placed to enable EU and national officials to more effectively respond to citizens, as well as equipping non-governmental and civil society actors for participation in the democratic life of the EU,” concludes Wouters.

PDF Basket

No article selected

Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator
Project participants:
United Kingdom
Total cost
€ 4 999 686
EU Contribution
€ 4 999 686
Project duration

All success stories