This paper contextualises the benefits and challenges of participation and eParticipation in the EU in two respects: historically, by reviewing the last decade of legislative and policy initiatives relevant to public participation in European policy-making; and theoretically, by defining the governance regime which operates in the EU and, taking into account the governance 'reform programme' which EU institutions have also laid out, theorising the scope for public participation in this political context. While noting a certain gap or lag between rhetoric and reality, such that participation opportunities remain biased in practice towards structured events, a number of risks are identified in the apparent future strategy of 'listening better' by diffusing participation beyond the 'strong publics' which have hitherto dominated participative policy-making in Europe.
These risks are referred to as the 'low benefit - high cost' scenario, the 'pathologies of learning', the 'tyranny of light', and the difficulty of targeting marginalised groups, with the need to protect and yet connect 'enclaves' in the European public sphere.
The underlying challenge for a network governance regime like the EU is how to maintain a productive tension between system-oriented and actor-driven participation. eParticipation tools may prove useful in this balancing act.