Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

Opinion

Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'

  • 'The only way to make the vague and delayed Conference on the Future of Europe useful again is to involve European citizens in the choice of policies through the billions in public investment made by the Recovery Fund' (Photo: Chris Potter/StockMonkeys.com)

Before the pandemic broke into our lives, one of the most topical issues in the European political debate was the long-awaited Conference on the Future of Europe.

The vagueness of the objectives was the main criticism of the conference proposal that the Commission and the European Parliament were on the verge of defining: no structural reform could have been forced by the consultation, since no proposal for treaty-change would have been within the powers of the conference.

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Recent events have completely reversed the agenda of the European institutions.

Dealing with the recovery from the pandemic, the Conference on the Future of Europe seems to have disappeared from the political-media debate.

Thousands of billions euros will be spent by the EU and its member states through the Recovery Fund: this is widely and understandably perceived as the only priority of this historic phase.

And yet, if we still believe in a future for Europe that goes beyond the current inter-governmental system, we should realise that the debate on the use of these resources cannot happen beyond the closed doors of the council.

This is exactly where the decisions on the Recovery Fund and the reshaping of the Conference on the Future of Europe meet.

While the European institutions, ignored by much of the media beyond EUobserver, are committed to redefining the timetable and content of the Conference on the Future of Europe, we suggest five ideas for reshaping this great civic consultation, making it appropriate for such a historical phase.

1. Citizens must have a say in the Recovery fund

The only way to make the vague and delayed Conference on the Future of Europe useful again is to use it as an opportunity to involve European citizens in the choice of policies to be implemented through the billions of public investments made by the Recovery Fund.

The green and sustainable growth that everybody is invoking now will be easier to prosecute if citizens (and not just lobbies) are allowed to debate European ecological problems transparently, in a way to propose the environmental measures needed to tackle the climate emergency. Something similar happened in France through the great public debate in the Convention Citoyenne Pour Le Climat.

2. Constitutional reforms need to happen now

The focus of the conference should be extended to the constitutional reforms needed to empower European institutions to address global challenges which, as the pandemic has shown so well, they are unable to tackle today.

An example can be the reform of EU healthcare and civic protection instruments to respond to outbreaks.

Rather than merely sustain or coordinate the action of member states under particular circumstances, a treaty change should empower the EU to frame a harmonic legislation in these strategic fields.

3. A clear system for the selection of citizens

Sortition should be the main selection criteria for citizens' participation in the conference. It is indeed the most suitable instrument to obtain a highly diverse cross-section of the European society in terms of geography, gender, age, socio-economic background and/or level of education.

This ancient democratic tool has become nowadays in many countries a best practice for the involvement of citizens in public decision-making.

Of course, it is not simply a question of drawing citizens by lot and letting them discuss an issue freely. The selected people are confronted with experts who provide them with the necessary knowledge to discuss and deliberate on a given topic, guided in the discussion by expert moderators.

4. A relevant agenda for European citizens

We need to start having discussions that are close to European citizens' lives.

Climate change, unemployment, social injustice, public health, these are just a few of the main concerns that citizens in every country in Europe are having.

We need a conference that amplifies the often unheard voices—of care workers who have been working day and night to save us or young people demonstrating for climate justice—which European have been ignoring for a long time.

5. Changing the top-down structures

The EU structure increasingly frustrates any meaningful space for the expression of European citizens.

For as much as the parliament has gained powers of co-decision, decision-making has moved to informal groups or inter-governmental agreements. By consequence, European citizens are deprived of political agency at the time when they demand it and need it the most.

Author bio

Lorenzo Mineo is campaign coordinator at Eumans, the movement of European citizens for Democracy and Sustainable Development, a member of the Citizens Take Over Europe alliance.

Marta Cillero Manzano is responsible for communications at European Alternatives, a transnational citizens movement for democracy and equality, and one of the organisations behind the Citizens Take Over Europe alliance.

Disclaimer

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

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