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16th May 2021

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

  • 'Without the voice of more than one million local and regional elected politicians the conference will not succeed,' incoming head of the Committee of the Regions, Apostolos Tzitsikostas, warned (Photo: European Committee of the Regions)

If the Conference on the Future of Europe is a top-down, centralised, Brussels-driven process that does not actively involve its local and regional leaders, it will fail, the new president of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) warned on Wednesday (12 February).

The planned conference, a two-year initiative which aims to reconnect citizens, must be an opportunity "to rebuild trust and faith" and this can be done only via representativeness and inclusiveness, incoming chief Apostolos Tzitzikostas told commissioner for democracy and demography, Dubravka Suica, during a debate.

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"But without the voice of more than one million local and regional elected politicians the conference will not succeed," he warned, adding that "only by being ambitious and open to change, we can restore trust in the EU".

Tzitsikostas, who will head the CoR for the next two-and-a-half years, believes that the conference is a good opportunity to address the 'democratic deficit' of the EU.

"If the three main institutions are serious about turning the conference from an institutional debate into a tool to put 'citizens first', they need to take on board local and regional elected politicians," he said.

"We stand ready to contribute to the conference and bring Europe back home to its people," he added.

The European Commission should understand that "the crisis of the institutions and the problems we are facing today in the EU, such as Brexit, radicalism, extremism, etc, stem from the fact that the people feel their cities and regions forgotten," Tzitsikostas told EUobserver.

"These are signs that we need to carefully take into consideration if we want to have a better European Union in the future," he added.

Process over substance?

The European Parliament voted its position on 15 January on the conference, after the commission announced its broad lines a week later - but the EU Council is still to follow.

However, the discussion until now has been focussed rather on the format rather than content.

While the commission's proposal does not go into details, the parliament proposed in its resolution that the membership of the conference should be constituted by 135 MEPs, 27 members representing EU countries, between two to four members per member-state parliament, three commissioners, four members of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and four members of the CoR.

However, the discussion with the different stakeholders are still ongoing and Tzitsikostas hopes to be able to increase the representation of the local and regional authorities in the conference to give the CoR a "main role" in the conference, as local and regional authorities are the closest to citizens and communities, he told EUobserver.

The parliament is also calling for a steering committee - with members from the parliament, commission and council - to oversee the process and prepare the meetings of the conference.

But the CoR said it wants to be part of this steering committee to ensure the political and institutional balance between all levels of governance.

"EU's legitimacy must be based on the representativeness ensured by all its elected European politicians, from local, regional, national and EU levels," Tzitsikostas said.

"If the Union fails to count on all its elected representatives, it will fail in rebuilding trust," he added.

The presidents of the three main EU institutions - Charles Michel, David Sassoli, and Ursula von der Leyen, said last month that a joint declaration on the conference will soon be published - which the CoR agreed to sign.

Also, the CoR and the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE) have launched a series of debates to be held between March and May 2020 to contribute to the discussions on the future of EU decision-making processes.

Some 28 from 71 regional parliaments with legislative powers have declared their readiness to take part in the project.

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

Details have been revealed by the European Parliament of its proposals on how to conduct the two-year post-Brexit reform exercise of the EU. But a final format will have to be determined in talks with member states and the commission.

EU states wary of MEPs leading future conference

The majority of member states back the "policy first" concept of the Croatian EU presidency for the focus of the post-Brexit internal reform exercise. EU countries also want to make sure the EU parliament does not get to lead alone.

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