Barriers to European citizens’ understanding of how decision are taken at the EU level: an educational response

Erasmus + KA 3 project Teachers4EuropeSetting an Agora for Democratic Culture

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How readable are the EU institutions by its citizens? The complexity of the legislative process of the EU presents a barrier to citizens’ understanding of it; as a result, citizens feel far away from the decisions taken.

Who is elected democratically in the EU institutions? Who is not? Who proposes laws? Who votes them in – or not? What are the legislative processes of the European Union? What do we think of EU decision processes?

“The European Union is a magnificent adventure that has no equal in the world. But the problem is that its institutions are too complex and not well known. To be able to manage all the actors, EU citizens, 27 governments, commissions of technicians and officers… it is difficult to circumvent the need for the three central institutions (European Parliament, European Council and European Commission)… It is complicated to undo these, but there is a problem of communication mostly. Why not teach, in classrooms, even 30 minutes of curriculum for increasing knowledge of the EU?”

(Marion Van Renterghem, Interview on TF1 “Quotidien” 19/01/2022)

The Handbook does just that: it provides teachers with the resources they need to address the issue.

Today we highlight the activity “Legislative Process”, p. 51 of the handbook, that invites learners to reproduce in a small scale a legislative process of the EU, using roles in order to better understand it and to reflect on possible measures to make it better in the future.

The activity sets the scene for:

  • Students (14 to 18) to be able to understand the decision processes at the EU level. They will
    • Understand how a legislative process at European level works
    • Reflect on the difficulties of the reconciliation of interests involved
    • Assess the extent to which national and citizens’ interests are taken into account.
  • Teachers will find all they need to facilitate a 3-hour module (4 classes), including attractive materials.

Student will adopt roles:

  • the Council of the European Union,
  • the European Parliament
  • the EU Commission

And go through a live legislative process. This role playing pedagogy is active, participative and lively to satisfy students’ curiosity and willingness to learn.

What will be learnt?

  • How a political cycle works
  • The steps of the legislative
  • The articulation of national and european interests

The debriefing of the activities will allow for students’ to become aware of the knowledge gained about the legislative process, but also critically reflect on the complexity of the decision-making process of the EU and explore ways that citizens might not feel so far away from the decisions taken.

  • Did you find the process comprehensible?
  • Which step is missing at the beginning of this process?
  • Is the process democratic? Which democratic elements are included? Why do you consider this process (non)democratic? What do you propose to improve the democratic aspect of this decision-making process?
  • To what extent are the interests of individual states and citizens in Europe taken into account?
  • How do you perceive the balance of power between the
  • Commission, the Parliament and the Council?
  • Do you find it understandable that unanimity procedures are carried out in the Council when the national law of the member states is affected?
  • What problems could occur in the unanimity procedure?
  • Can you explain with the example why in reality many negotiations are conducted informally.

To end the module an assessment activity is proposed to allow students to evaluate their learning. Peers can hold conversations to evaluate ‘where they are at’ concerning their behaviours in the group:

Further informations

> To learn more about the legislative process: Ordinary Legislative Procedure (website)

> Bandmann, M, Viñes Jimeno, M., Mompoint-Gaillard, P. (2021). Legislative process. Handbook for Teachers Teaching European Values. P. Mompoint-Gaillard & M. Viñes Jimeno (Eds.). Teachers4Europe Erasmus + KA3 – policy-making – Setting an Agora for Democratic Culture.

To learn more about Handbook’s Activities

Handbook for Teachers - Teaching European Values

To find out more about the Handbook for Teachers:


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