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24th Jul 2021

Future of Europe: Nearly half of citizens want reforms

  • The discussions so far have been more focussed on who should take charge (and credit) than on the scope or content of the actual, much-delayed, event (Photo: DG EMPL)

Almost half of EU citizens (44 percent) would like to see reforms to the bloc, a survey published on Friday (12 February) revealed.

"Reform of the EU is clearly something citizens want to see, and that is why we need to launch the Conference on the Future of Europe as soon as possible," the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, said.

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The much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is seen as a chance to have an inclusive dialogue with citizens about the way ahead for the EU - particularly after the pandemic revealed major weaknesses of the Union.

However, the discussions so far have been more focussed on who should take charge (and credit) than on the scope or content of the actual event.

After months of internal institutional infighting, the Portuguese presidency finally broke the year-long deadlock in the European Council by proposing to have a co-presidency with the heads of the three main EU institutions - instead of a single "eminent European personality".

MEPs have generally accepted this, but some have questioned the composition of the executive committee, the body that will steer the everyday work of the CoFoE - arguing that the proposal could exclude smaller parties.

According to the council's position, three representatives from each of the main EU institutions and "observers," such as national lawmakers, would constitute this committee.

However, some MEPs, regional leaders, organisations and civil society groups, through CIVICO Europa alliance, have called on EU leaders to enable "citizens and civil society to take control" - by participating in the CoFoE design and implementation.

"This implies that the executive board should include social partners and representatives of civil society, media and European economic, social and cultural organisations, as well as local and regional authorities, with the status of full members or observers," they said, in an open letter.

"This current moment for the Union requires everyone to bring about a deep change in the vision, structure and functioning of our Union," they added.

'No taboos'

While the Portuguese proposal for the CoFoE excludes the possibility of any treaty change, keeping the conference open is crucial for EU lawmakers.

"For us, the ambition of the conference should not have any taboos," said Manfred Weber, the chairman of the largest group in the parliament, the European People's Party.

For his part, Green MEP Daniel Freund pointed out that "citizens agoras" are the key element to allow "a truly European debate" that it is representative of the 450 million citizens.

"For this, face-to-face discussion will be crucial. But, in that sense, we will continue to be blocked [by the pandemic] for a bit longer," he added.

The proposal of the Portuguese presidency maintains that CoFoE outcome should be reflected in a report to the EU Council in 2022 - a date set before the pandemic, suitable for French president Emmanuel Macron.

Two-year duration?

This way the conference would last only a year or even less (considering holidays), which, for some MEPs, is not feasible.

"We have pushed for a two-year solution to ensure a true participation of all stakeholders and citizens," said the leader of the socialist in the parliament, Iratxe García.

"The future challenges for the Union are many and complex, and we should allow time for a proper reflection within the frame of this conference, as well as proper follow up from all three EU institutions," she added.

Nevertheless, Freund points out that it is important to deliver some concrete results ahead of the next European election in 2024, especially "finding a solution" to the so-called 'Spitzenkandidat' system of lead candidates to be president of the commission.

Meanwhile, almost nine in ten Europeans want citizens' voices to be more taken into account for decisions relating to the future of Europe - and more than half (51 percent) do not feel that "their voice counts in the EU".

Opinion

Why a shortened 'Future Europe' conference suits France

Convening citizens' panels and conducting multi-level debates on various policy topics in the timespan of one year, and under social-distancing restrictions, will be either impossible, or will boil the Conference on the Future of Europe down to a mere window-dressing.

Future of Europe conference: one year on standby

12 months after the European Parliament and the European Commission gave their views on the Conference on the Future of Europe, member states are still fighting over who should chair the event - which has blocked the launch for months.

More trust in EU than national governments amid pandemic

Europeans' support in their national governments has plummeted since the pandemic began, while the image of the EU and trust in the 27-nations bloc remains strong and steadily increasing, according to two new surveys.

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