Thursday

26th May 2022

EU gears up for post-Brexit renovation

  • European Council and Parliament presidents, Donald Tusk (l) and Antonio Tajani (r), with the 2017 Rome Declaration - a previous attempt at finding common ground (Photo: Consilium)

Member states, MEPs and the new EU commission are all gearing up to launch a discussion on the future of post-Brexit Europe early next year.

On Wednesday (27 November) EU ambassadors are expected to discuss a German-French proposal that attempts to set out "guiding principles" for the conference on the future of Europe.

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The European Parliament is also busy setting up its own priorities and ideas for the conference - which aims to decide some major EU institutional issues, sharpen policies, and involve citizens more in EU decision-making.

Incoming EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs in July that she wants citizens to be part of the conference, which will "start in 2020 and run for two years".

The succinct German-French plan says the conference should make the EU more united and sovereign.

It suggests that a first phase for the conference should begin in February 2020, based on an agreement of all the EU institutions.

The Paris-Berlin proposal says discussions first should focus on the EU's democratic functioning, transnational lists at European elections, and the lead candidate process - which was, in fact, sidestepped in July by EU leaders when picking von der Leyen as commission chief.

The second phase, starting in the summer under the German EU presidency, should focus on policy priorities, on issues such as security and defence, neighbourhood, migration, climate, inequality, digitalisation, trade and industry.

It should end with tangible, concrete results under the French EU presidency in 2020 for EU leaders to discuss, according to the German-Franco plan.

EU member states only received the proposals recently, and on Wednesday ambassadors are expected to ask further questions, rather than reveal member states' positions.

EU leaders could also discuss it at their meeting in mid-December.

Meanwhile the constitutional affairs committee in parliament is also working on an opinion on the conference, that will feed into the parliament's resolution on the matter, to be adopted in January.

The draft opinion, seen by EUobserver, says that the conference should respect 'representativity', and should be organised using the "most efficient, innovative and appropriate platforms" in order to guarantee that any citizen can participate.

MEPs would focus the topics of the conference on: "European values, fundamental rights and freedoms, the democratic and institutional aspects of the European integration, environmental challenges and climate crisis, social justice and equality, economic issues including taxation, digital transformation, security and the role of the EU in the world."

The parliament also thinks institutional issues should be addressed in the first six months.

It proposes setting up thematic committees and plenary sittings and meetings in all member states, "regular enough to deliver concrete proposals".

The parliament says the conference should initiate real change.

The opinion was discussed on Monday evening at a meeting of the constitutional affairs committee, where commissioner-designate for democracy and demography, Dubravka Suica, was present.

MEPs have until Tuesday to submit amendments to the opinion before the committee will vote on it on 9 December.

It will be then sent to the working group tasked with issues regarding the conference, and the so-called conference of presidents, essentially the political groups' leaders, before it heads to the parliament's plenary later on.

The French-German proposal says that a "senior European personality" should chair the conference with the help of a small steering group and a permanent secretariat.

Verhofstadt to chair?

MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who chairs the parliament's working group on the issue, has been rumoured for the job, but there was no discussion on his possible future role on Monday evening.

Parliament president David Sassoli, constitutional affairs chair Antonio Tajani, Paulo Rangel (EPP), Gabriele Bischoff (S&D), Daniel Freund (Greens), Zdzislaw Krasnodebski (ECR), Gunnar Beck (ID), and Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL) are also part of the working group.

Some MEPs argued on Monday that the conference should either guarantee to produce concrete results - or the EU should not do it.

After the Brexit referendum, several attempts were made to rethink the direction and policies of the EU at summits in Bratislava to Rome.

Fragile common objectives were identified, but - beyond a show of unity - previous soul-searching efforts have yielded few tangible results.

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