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11th Jul 2020

'Democracy commissioner' doesn't rule out treaty change

  • Commission vice-president Dubravka Šuica said if citizens want the conference results to be binding - they could be (Photo: European Commission)

EU Commission vice-president Dubravka Šuica said on Wednesday (22 January) that the EU executive was "open" to treaty change - if European citizens demand it through the planned two-year reform exercise.

The Croatian commissioner presented the executive's outline on the Conference on the Future of Europe, a dialogue with citizens aimed at better involving EU voters in policy-making, especially in the wake of Brexit.

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"We will not pre-empt what will be the outcome, if citizens say they want treaty change we are open to this too," the vice-president for democracy and demography told reporters in Brussels.

The commission originally had included possible treaty changes as the result of the conference in its draft proposal - but in the communication on Wednesday there was no reference to the gruellingly-complicated process.

Šuica said that whatever comes out of the conference "will be transposed into concrete policies and even in legislative acts.

Most member states have been reluctant to enter into the long and precarious process of changing treaties, the basic rulebook for the functioning of the EU, often regarded as opening a 'Pandora's box' which is then difficult to close.

EU affairs ministers will discuss their position on the conference next Tuesday, but are not yet expected to formalise a common position.

The structure of the dialogue is still under negotiations between the three major EU institutions.

The parliament adopted its position last week on a regular set of structured meetings with EU citizens from all over the continent, named "agoras", the Greek for forums.

The commission on the other hand is less clear about their vision on the actual structure of the discussion, saying it wants a simple, workable and practical structure.

The executive's proposal argued that the already-existing "citizens' dialogues", regular meetings for the past five years with commissioners, should be the basis for the conference.

The commission wants the conference to focus on two parallel strands: policy ideas in climate, social affairs, digital policy, foreign policy, the EU's democratic foundation, and institutional reform focusing on the lead candidate ('Spitzenkandidaten') system and transnational lists.

Introducing transnational lists would require legislation and takes time, and the commissioner said it should be done in time for the 2024 EU elections.

"No one would like to approach 2024 elections without knowing the rules, we need to do this as soon as possible," she said.

Šuica left it open whether the demands of citizens could become binding in the commission's view, saying "if a majority of citizens want something, why not make it binding, but I can't say more".

She said the commission wants to reach as many citizens as possible, and not only to the already pro-EU ones.

However, some MEPs involved with hammering out the parliament's proposal on the conference have already criticised the commission for not mentioning treaty changes explicitly.

The conference is to kick off officially on 9 May (Europe Day), and the commission proposed Croatia's Dubrovnik to host the event.

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