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13th Jun 2021

Dozen EU states spell out 'Future of Europe' priorities

  • The opening events are expected to take place across Europe around Europe Day (9 May) (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

A group of 12 member states have joined forces to water down the outcome of the long-awaited Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) - seen as a chance to have an inclusive dialogue with citizens about the way ahead for the EU.

In a position paper, distributed ahead of the General Affairs Council on Tuesday (23 March) and seen by EUobserver, the governments of Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Sweden set out a list of common interests for the foreshortened 12-month event.

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These include topics such as the rule of law, the digital transition, the recovery from the pandemic, climate policies and migration challenges - all also part of the strategic agenda of the European Council.

However, reform of the existing legislative process and inter-institutional division of competences should be off the table for this group of countries, who argue that the conference "should not create legal obligations".

This sends a clear signal to the European Parliament - which has previously called for improvements to EU democracy ahead of the next European elections in 2024.

"When citizens engage in politics they rightfully expect a legislative outcome. Be it elections, or participating in the Conference Future of Europe," said MEP Daniel Freund from the Greens.

In their conclusions on the previous European elections, MEPs said that the CoFoE would be an opportunity to examine topics such as strengthening the lead candidate (Spitzenkandidaten) process, establishing a European Electoral Authority or creating transnational lists.

However, the member states' position paper explicitly excludes the possibility of treaty changes, arguing that "the Union framework offers potential to allow priorities to be addressed in an effective manner".

Until now, both the European Commission and MEPs had advocated for an "open and inclusive" discussion, without taboos.

This paper will also be sent to the conference executive board, after their first meeting takes place on Wednesday (24 March).

This is the body that will steer the everyday work of the event. It is co-chaired by the three main EU institutions (Parliament, Commission, Council), each having three representatives and up to four observers.

While there is no official agenda yet, their first meeting is expected to be focused on the launching of the digital platform designed to enable cross-border debates and the planning of events in member states.

Avoiding 'disappointment'

During an event last week at the European Policy Centre, the Estonian undersecretary for European affairs, Märt Volmer, said the executive board should come up with a clear framework of questions to allow concrete conclusions.

"The idea is to have this bottom-up approach in which the voice of people will be heard. If we do this, it is important that these voices reach somewhere. Otherwise, there will be a disappointment," he warned.

Fellow Slovak state secretary for European affairs, Martin Klus, also pointed out the need for tangible results. "It will be a huge disappointment if the conference is just a discussion," he warned.

The position paper of member states also underlines that "follow-up is important in order to demonstrate to citizens that their input is taken seriously".

The initial events are expected to take place across the bloc around Europe Day (9 May).

Although the conference was initially scheduled as a two-year event, the main EU institutions finally agreed that its conclusions should be reached by spring 2022 - a date set before the pandemic, suited to French president Emmanuel Macron, whose brainchild the conference largely was.

Opinion

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