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23rd Feb 2020

EU states wary of MEPs leading future conference

  • Croatian state secretary for EU affairs Andreja Metelko-Zgombic at the press conference after the meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU countries continued to hammer out their positions on the Conference on the Future of Europe, a two-year process aimed at engaging EU citizens and revamp the bloc after Brexit.

EU affairs ministers on Tuesday (28 January) discussed what the council's position should be after the European Parliament presented an ambitious proposal, and the EU Commission put forward its ideas last week with the aim of starting the whole process on 9 May - Europe Day.

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The majority of EU ministers supported the need for the conference to first focus on policies rather than institutional issues, such as the lead candidate process (the so-called 'Spitzenkandidaten') and transnational lists.

The majority of member states also stressed that EU institutions should have "equal representation", according to an EU official, in leading and running the process - in a sign that they do not want it to be led by the European parliament.

The parliament adopted a resolution with a detailed plan on how the structure of the conference should be set up, and the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) already named Manfred Weber MEP and the liberal Renew MEP Guy Verhofstadt as point men in the process.

While member states did not go into the details on how the "governance" of the reform exercise should be set up, many ministers said it should be "simple, as lean...as possible", the official added.

Verhofstadt was not mentioned in the discussion.

A so-called non-paper put forward by the Croatian presidency as the basis for the discussion does refer to an "eminent and independent European personality", agreed by all EU institutions, as a possible chief for the exercise.

Alternatively, the conference could be run by a presidency of representatives from the parliament, the commission and the council on an "equal footing", the proposal, seen by EUobserver, states.

Several ministers said the process should build on the previous citizens' dialogue but in a more structured way, as the commission had proposed.

"During the discussion the ministers stressed the importance of putting citizens at the heart of the conference, focusing on issues truly matter to them," Croatian state secretary Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, told reporters after the meeting.

She added that the council's position will now be finalised by the ambassadors, and then will enter into talks with the other two institutions on the final outline of the conference.

Member states also argued for the inclusion of the national parliaments in the process.

EU ministers have steered clear of committing to any possible treaty change at the end of the process, with many member states arguing there is ample room for improvement under the current treaty set up.

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