Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Opinion

What future for the Future of Europe Conference?

  • The selection of Guy Verhofstadt as president is an excellent choice - but the discussion is currently focused on format rather than content (Photo: European Parliament)

The upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe is a big opportunity to communicate the European project accurately.

Originally scheduled to start in May, the conference has been postponed to September due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Despite warnings that expectations would not be met, as it was the case with the European constitution, I believe that it is a unique occasion for a more democratic, sovereign and federal Europe.

It will offer the possibility to put the future of the EU at the heart of the European debate and if managed well it could revitalise the European idea.

The conference is a wonderful project for recognising and respecting the different national dimensions. The selection of Guy Verhofstadt as president is an excellent choice. He is a committed European and has long experience in EU affairs.

The member states of the EU have different opinions depending on their historical, political, socio-economic and media context.

The Conference on the Future of Europe will help to find out why a large part of the Europeans does not endorse the Union. It will launch a discussion on what is a European identity and what our values are.

Going local

The Conference on the Future of Europe could be an excellent example of Going Local.

Empowering the citizens and engaging with them, supporting the development of a public European sphere, setting-up a two-way dialogue, listening to the people and being transparent.

The outcomes of this democratic process should not be neglected but respected and analysed.

Most of the main actual problems such as the migrant-crisis, euroscepticism, cooperation on security issues, and lately the coronavirus pandemic require a coordinated European answer.

While the European Parliament was the first EU institution to publish a document on the conference, in fact, the original idea came from France's president Emmanuel Macron.

For the moment, everybody wants to be involved, and the discussion is currently focused on format rather than content.

The conference will focus on involving civil society in large debates about the future of Europe and provide sustainable solutions on how the Union can respond to peoples' needs.

It should identify what the EU does well and what new measures it needs to do better, to increase its capacity to act and to make it more democratic. The whole process should be based on a bottom-up approach.

It should also provide more insights in fields concerning the transparency of the works of the Council of the EU; push forwards the system of pan-European lists for the next European elections and bring the system of 'Spitzenkandidate' back to life.

A call for treaty change should be also discussed by citizens, in particular concerning member states' competency on the health sector.

The European public sphere

The Conference could be a useful step in the direction of structuring a public European sphere. Such a sphere is hardly needed for the further unification of the continent.

For the moment, Europe is not yet one nation and the EU is not yet a federal state. It is a kind of confederation.

Europe needs to challenge the myths that surround the block by presenting stories that answer citizens' concerns. The EU needs a real communication revolution if it wants to highlight its achievements and its added value.

However, branding, PR or communication cannot work properly if not backed by real reforms and political will. All communication strategies start with policy, with performance and with action.

Most of the problems of the EU, including euroscepticism and populism, can be tackled if the Union itself begins to change, perform better and is seen to be doing so by EU citizens.

Despite the slow unification process we experienced the last seven decades, divisions are widening even more lately because of Covid-19.

On the other hand, as long as humanity, as a whole undergoes the same traumatic experiences repeatedly, there will be, gradually, a larger sense of unity. However, this will be a slower process than the rise of nationalism.

I strongly believe that the European Union allow us to preserve our welfare-state model of society, our liberal democracies and the diversity of our national cultures.

By joining forces and working together we can find workable solutions to many issues. A politically-unified Europe is the best remedy against the rise of poverty, alt-right, intolerance and racism.

Even after losing Britain, the EU remains one of the main players on the planet despite its slow decision-making process.

If we want to play an important role and have a kind of influence on the international political agenda and the solution of global problems, we must keep our forces together.

Abandoning European unification would be equal to quitting the world stage for good.

Author bio

Stavros Papagianneas is the author of Rebranding Europe, and managing director of StP Communications.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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