Monday

19th Apr 2021

Conference on the Future of Europe - how it will work

  • While the aim is to exchange views with Europeans, non-EU citizens will be able to participate too (Photo: European Union)

The executive board of the Conference on the Future of Europe on Wednesday (25 March) took the first steps to launching the troubled and delayed event - designed as a chance to have an inclusive dialogue with EU citizens about the way ahead for the bloc.

The board agreed to launch a multilingual digital platform next month (19 April) to ensure that citizens can start contributing to the conference "without delay".

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"Our job is to make sure the conference gains public momentum, and then, to draw an agenda from it to shape Europe's future together," said liberal Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, co-chair of the conference.

The body is composed of representatives from the three main EU institutions (Council, Parliament and Commission) plus other actors, such as the Committee of the Regions, trade unions or industry groups.

The digital platform will allow citizens and other participants, such as civil society, to submit proposals and contributions to online discussions and help them organise events by themselves - both online and offline.

Eight topics

The debates will be grouped into eight categories: climate change, health, jobs and economy, EU in the world, freedom and rights, digital, EU democracy and other ideas - to allow citizens to come up with further topics.

While the aim is to exchange views with Europeans, non-EU citizens will be able to participate too.

"The digital platform is where everyone has an opportunity to say what they think…it will not be discriminating between nationalities," a senior EU official told EUobserver.

"There is a lot of interest in the conference internationally, but the intention is still to engage with EU citizens," the source added.

The contributions to the platform will be the basis for national citizens panels, or thematic events organised by the executive board - similar to existing citizens' dialogues.

These panels will then provide recommendations to the conference plenary, composed of representatives from the main EU institutions, as well as national parliamentarians, and a group of randomly-selected citizens.

The executive board discussed launching with a symbolic event on Europe Day (9 May) in Strasbourg, and then holding the first conference plenary on 10 May.

Depending on the pandemic, the plenary might take place in a hybrid or reduced format, or be pushed to one month later, when more people have been vaccinated, said MEP Daniel Freund, who is part of the executive board.

In total, there will be four or five citizens panels and plenaries.

2022 evaluation

A group of a dozen sceptical member states have joined forces to water down the outcome of the event, ruling out treaty changes and arguing that discussions on reforming the existing legislative process should be off the table.

So far, all the institutions agreed that debates should take place "without a predetermined outcome".

"The point of this conference is not only that citizens can share their views, concerns and opinions, but that these views, concerns and opinions find their way into the policy-making pipeline," the EU official said.

The conference outcome will be a report to the main EU institutions by spring 2022 - a date set before the pandemic, suitable for French president Emmanuel Macron, who was a major forcing in pushing the idea.

The paper will have a series of recommendations for each institution.

"This will be putting pressure on the institutions to pick up what is recommended to them, and to deliver on it," the official said, adding that "this is where the evaluation of the success - or otherwise - can be made".

Meanwhile, almost nine-in-ten Europeans want citizens' voices to be more taken into account for decisions relating to the future of Europe - and just over half (51 percent) do not feel that "their voice counts in the EU", according to one recent survey.

Gender-balance problem

Additionally, the executive board has come under fire for not respecting gender balance, especially among the representatives of the parliament.

In total, only about a third of the members of the executive board are women.

"For us, it sends the wrong message if leadership fails to respect gender balance or reflect Europe's diversity," said MEP Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists & Democrats.

The executive board is expected to meet again on 7 April.

Opinion

'Future EU' conference: good idea, bad timing

Listening to European citizens should be a permanent and continuous process - not merely limited to one event which starts on 9 May 2021 and is to finish before the presidential elections in France in the spring of 2022.

12-month Future EU Conference is 'impossible', expert warns

The debate about the much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe so far has been locked in endless institutional infighting over who should lead the event - lowering the expectations about what can be achieved in the coming months.

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