Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Parliament calls for citizens' 'agoras' to shape future EU

  • The Rome declaration in 2017 aimed to reinforce EU unity - but failed to usher in meaningful post-Brexit reforms (Photo: Consilium)

The European Parliament in a resolution to be adopted on Wednesday (15 January) has called for the discussion on the future of the EU - aimed at reconnecting to citizens - to kick off on 9 May, which is Europe Day.

The Conference on the Future of Europe, a planned two-year soul-searching exercise by the EU after Brexit, will also be discussed by MEPs on Wednesday.

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But before the proposed conference can start, the parliament, the commission and member states will all need to hammer out the exact format and goals of the revamping exercise.

The parliament, for its part, wants to "give EU citizens a renewed opportunity to have a robust debate on the future of Europe", the draft resolution says.

It envisages a "meaningful dialogue" and adds that "a permanent mechanism for engaging with the citizens" should be set up.

The dialogue should be "inclusive, participatory and well-balanced", should involve citizens, organised civil society and other stakeholders at national, regional and local level, the parliament argues.

It proposes a conference plenary - with a maximum 135 MEPs, representatives of national parliaments, the council of member states, three commissioners, social partners and with members form the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - meeting at least four times a year in the parliament, with input from citizens.

So-called thematic citizens' 'agoras' (Greek for a marketplace) "reflecting the policy priorities should be held throughout the conference process, and that they should be composed of a maximum of 200‑300 citizens with a minimum of three per member state", according to the parliament's plans.

Each thematic citizens' agora should have minimum of two meetings, without government representatives or politicians present, the draft resolution adds.

Youth agoras for citizens aged 16 to 25 would be held, at least twice.

A steering committee - with members from the three EU institutions - would oversee the process, prepare the meetings of the of the conference plenary and the agoras.

And the scope of issues should be open, without predetermined topics, the parliament argues.

However, it also provides a list of issues as guidelines, such as: European values, fundamental rights and freedoms, democratic and institutional aspects of the EU, climate, social justice and equality, employment and taxation, digital transformation, security, and the EU in the world.

The key question appears to be how any recommendation would then make its way through EU legislation.

The parliament commits itself to follow-up with concrete action, and wants the same from the commission and the council as well.

"Our main goal is strengthening democracy, people need to feel part of the process," group leader of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) Manfred Weber said on Tuesday in Strasbourg.

"We need fresh air coming from participatory democracy, from citizens," the liberal Renew leader Dacian Ciolos told reporters on Tuesday.

"Some member states are afraid of it...involving the people. We think this is the exact moment and the way to involve the people, Ciolos said.

First move

The parliament has been driving the initiative, and with Wednesday's resolution it will be the first EU institution to take an official position on the conference.

The commission will debate the conference next week, while in the council the Croatian EU presidency is taking the lead on forging the member states' position.

EU leaders discussed the idea last December, but remained vary of a reform exercise without clear policy objectives.

The planned resolution, which enjoys the support of five political groups, has been prepared based on the conclusions of a working group of MEPs set up by the parliamentary leadership, and has taken into account the recommendations of the constitutional affairs committee.

The conservative European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) have also tabled their own, separate, resolution on the matter.

Seeking a president

The EP does not propose an official to lead the process. An earlier German-French document on the outline of the conference called for a "senior European personality" to chair it.

Talks on the structure of the conference and how it should be run are still ongoing.

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt had been an early candidate for the job. He is supported by his liberal Renew group, whose leadership he gave up in possible anticipation of the conference leadership.

But the parliament's Socialists & Democrats disagree, and want to push for EP president David Sassoli to chair the conference.

"There is no better person to lead the conference than president Sassoli," Socialist group leader Iratxe Garcia said in December.

Analysis

From Bratislava to Rome: Little more than a show of unity

The so-called Bratislava process of reflection for the EU came to an end on Saturday, but there were few tangible results that citizens could take away from the soul-searching. Despite that, unity among the EU-27 has been maintained.

'Top-down' future of Europe conference 'will fail' warning

The new president of the Committee of the Regions has warned the EU Commission that a top-down, centralised, Brussels-driven conference will fail to rebuild trust in Europe. Instead, he proposes a stronger say for local and regional authorities.

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