« Are you a citizen? » the young journalist asks me earnestly. I smile inside. Reminds me of another favorite, ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ – yes, no, can’t win. « Sorry, no, at least not the citizen you are looking for...that would be one of the randomly chosen ones over there. »
I have never seen such a buzz in the Renaissance cluster of Badia Fiesolana, a medieval Roman Catholic monastery nested in the hills of Fiesole overlooking Florence. Not your everyday teaching day at the European University Institute: two hundred citizens have been invited from across Europe to take part in an experiment in continental democracy—the first transnational citizens’ assembly in the EU’s history. They have invaded my working space for what feels like a therapy weekend at the bedside of our aging European project. I happen to wear the hat of a so-called expert, servicing this endeavor. People of all ages and tongues are huddled in little groups or running around to stick their colored stickers over hundreds of messages pinned on the majestic building’s walls. Tomorrow, the citizens’ messages will be translated into recommendations for the EU and later their ambassadors will defend their views in Strasbourg’s European parliament hemicycle.
Today, in December 2021, these messengers are the beating heart of European politics. But for how long? To what end? Who really cares?