How to ensure food democracy in EU food policy?

The European Economic and Social Commitee (EESC) organized a parallel session on Food Democracy during the Open Food Conference held in Leuven from the 11th to the 13th of March 2024, in the context of Belgium's presidency of the Council of the EU. This conference aimed to bring the food system community together to discuss the current state of play after four years of the Farm to Fork Strategy and the introduction of the Flemish Food Strategy "Go4Food". In this framework, the EESC was asked to discuss the importance of food democracy in achieving sustainable food systems and highlighted ways to further strengthen the governance of the food policy process and ensure a comprehensive approach in food policy.

Ms. Piroska Kallay, President of the Permanent Group on Sustainable Food Systems of the EESC and rapporteur of the opinion "Towards a European Food Policy Council as a new governance model in the future EU Framework on Sustainable Food Systems", moderated the workshop. Professor Tim Lang, also known as "the father of Food Democracy", introduced how this term was born many years ago while working with various movements of people struggling for food. The basic idea of food democracy is about dialogue on how to shape the food systems we want and about a democratic process in deciding what it is that we want. Almudena Garcia, representing FIAN and the EU Food Policy Coalition, insisted on the need to have the Right to Food at the center of the transformation of the food system and highlighted that food democracy is the vehicle to put people at the center. Harry Dalton, representing Generation Climate Europe, highlighted the importance of the role of youth in the policy-making process by addressing that "we should not only give youth a voice, but empower them to use it". Christian Jonet, from Liege Foodbelt, a ground-breaking regional rural development project focused on sustainable local food production and distribution in the city of Liege, presented how the local Food Policy Council works as a participative democratic body. Zoe Heuschkel, representing the national network of German Food Policy Councils, further shared her experience from a national-wide level network of 70 German-speaking Food Policy Councils, presenting the important role they play in addressing local, national, EU, and global scale challenges by allowing citizens to exercise their democratic power within such spaces. All speakers insisted on the need to have a framework law on sustainable food systems. Alexandra Nikolakopoulou, Head of the unit of the F2F strategy, DG SANTE, participated as an active listener in the panel; she thanked all speakers for their support towards a framework law and expressed the EC's willingness to be very supportive in providing legislation at the local level.

The workshop concluded by highlighting that a more structured participation of civil society and food actors (e.g., through food policy councils/a European FPC) plays a key role in helping to achieve a just transition across the food supply chain, and that community-based Food Policy Councils aim to make "food democracy" a procedural guiding principle. The idea of an EFPC was supported by all panelists, and EESC member Piroska Kallay concluded by saying: "We strongly believe that if we increase the equal participation of the general public and various food system stakeholders, democratic innovations such as Food Policy Councils will promote the quality and legitimacy of food policymaking."

Why is the EESC proposing an EFPC? The EESC suggests the creation, at the EU level, of a European Food Policy Council (EFPC), bringing together the main actors who can unite behind the objective of moving towards food sustainability. An EFPC would help achieve a more integrated and participatory approach to food policymaking, accelerate the alignment of policies at EU, national, and local levels, and most importantly, increase the quality and legitimacy of EU food policy, contributing to fostering more sustainable and balanced rural and urban development. (mk)