31 March 2023

The REAL DEAL Handbook: Citizen Consultation and Participation for the European Green Deal

report project deliverable

Citizen engagement, consultation and participation are fundamental aspects of the relationship between governments and the people under international and European law and policy.

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The REAL DEAL Handbook: Citizen Consultation and Participation for the European Green Deal


As a foundation for these activities, this Handbook has been developed to present general, practical guidance for citizens, civil society organizations, other stakeholders, implementing authorities, governments, and legal professionals engaged in consultation and participation related to the EGD, on legal and institutional aspects related to the prospective methods and mechanisms for achieving the goals of the EGD. It also covers to the extent possible the legal and institutional frameworks for innovative forms of engagement based on consultative mechanisms such as citizen assemblies.

Citizen engagement is examined from different standpoints, particularly how citizen engagement relates specifically to the EGD and the 2030 Agenda. The evolution of the concept of sustainable development has always gone hand-in-hand with the development of conceptions of citizen engagement as an indispensable component in fostering all-of-society responses to current sustainability challenges. The rights-based framework has emerged to establish procedural and participatory rights as the bedrock of citizen action. The Aarhus Convention is the most advanced expression of environmental democracy worldwide and provides the foundation for a strong participatory culture throughout Europe.

At the same time, another type of citizen engagement based on consultative mechanisms rather than the rights-based approach, has grown in importance to respond to the complexities of policymaking in the field of sustainable development. An emerging understanding of the considerations necessary for effective consultation informs various conceptual foundations, aimed at recognizing environmental justice concerns, ensuring inclusiveness, reaching marginalised groups, and respecting nature.

Both approaches, however, are contained within the European framework for environmental governance, which covers five key dimensions: transparency, participation, access to justice, compliance and accountability, and effectiveness and efficiency. This framework in turn helps to identify those areas where citizen engagement can really make a difference in regard to the spectrum of issues covered by the EGD. Citizens, moreover, play an important role in each of the dimensions, and the legal and institutional frameworks demonstrate the necessity of citizen engagement in the themes related to environmental governance. The Aarhus Convention framework is relevant to all these dimensions to some degree. The Convention institutions and the standards that have been reached through a quarter-century of implementation are explored, with references given to the large body of guidance and resources on implementation of the Convention and related European law.

The rights-based approach has certain limitations, however, and the growth of consultative forms, formats, methods and tools and their constant variation and innovation are firm evidence of the urgent pressure for all actors in society to work together in new and innovative formats to reach solutions to the challenges of the triple global crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. As authorities, citizens and stakeholders gain experience with consultative mechanisms, norms will be established. This is a gradual process, however, and at present the legal and institutional framework for many of these mechanisms is in an early stage of development. Nevertheless, there are many initiatives presently underway, particularly at the EU level and in leading EU Member States.

Some of these consultative forms, formats, methods and tools will be demonstrated in the REAL DEAL project. Recommendations aimed at civil society and public authorities are also provided on how citizen participation and deliberation can be further institutionalised to complement and strengthen representative democracy and existing forms of institutionalised dialogue at the European and Member State levels.

The Handbook will serve as a resource in project activities, and can be a living document that is taken up in further stages leading to the develop of the REAL DEAL Protocol and the establishment of a Citizen Deliberation Academy. The Handbook consists of a General Part as well as 13 Country Profiles which examine the legal and institutional frameworks for participation, deliberation and consultation in relation to the EGD in each country. The 13 countries studied in this project are: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Ukraine. The Handbook also examines the ways in which the EU legislative and institutional frameworks influence the non-EU Member States.

Find out more about the REAL DEAL project