Saturday

8th May 2021

Opinion

Just cancel the Future of Europe Conference

  • The Conference on the Future of Europe is a mistake and it should be ended even before it begins (Photo: adobemac)

Leaders of the EU institutions, along with political elites, are gearing up for the Conference on the Future of Europe: an ambitious year-long exercise to determine the direction of the EU for the next few decades.

This is a mistake and it should be ended even before it begins.

Read and decide

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No matter how hard they try to make these future-looking discussions citizen-driven, bottom-up, and representative of European society, the voices present will not speak for what the majority of Europeans want.

Why would a random, unrepresentative mix of civil servants, self-appointed opinion leaders, and vocal activists be the ones to decide where the EU should be heading?

After spending an estimated €200m and countless months in meetings, the conference will likely release a grand statement along the lines of 'making the EU more inclusive, more competitive, sustainable, green', 'a united global player' to 'fight nationalism and partisanship' and share ideas of 'social solidarity and human rights' around the world.

But these principles are already well articulated in numerous documents and policy statements, so repeating them is rather futile.

Paradoxically, this very question has already been answered to a large degree by the European Commission's own Eurobarometer poll on this very subject.

Even if new conclusions do come up, how would a 'conference' in which a tiny fraction of EU citizens took part have any legitimacy, power, or ability to ensure that the leaders of EU member states and institutions will play along in advancing this strategy?

There are already multiple channels available and being used right now: opinion polls, think tank analyses, civil society and corporate campaigns, summits at the European Council (which is formally tasked with discussing and setting EU strategy already), and most of all, the European Parliamentary elections which gauge European voters' preferences on what direction the EU as a bloc should take.

Having lengthy discussions without any reassurance that its conclusions will ever be followed is not only a waste of taxpayers' money but it creates the illusion that something meaningful will come of it.

If those concerned by the EU's strategic direction were less impatient and more courageous, they would make this very issue the main topic of the 2024 European Parliamentary elections, as it has both the legitimacy and the power to enact what European voters truly want.

No radicalism, please

The great risk, however, is that European voters may decide that they do not want further integration or an ever closer union, so they choose representatives and leaders who wish to leave the EU, or perhaps bring the European Union back to the essence of European integration.

That may lead to the dismantling or scaling back of the dwindling and largely failing EU foreign policy, social, or tax regulations, and focusing on the core 'four freedoms' to create a real internal market that benefits everyone.

Is the Conference on the Future of Europe ready to contemplate such radical ideas?

It's sad to expect that, even before the meeting has begun, Oliver Cromwell's words to the British Parliament in 1653 will be just as relevant as they were some 350 years ago: "You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

Author bio

Andras Baneth is the author of the Ultimate EU Test Book, the best-seller on EU exams for those seeking EU careers. He is also a former Commission official with the Barroso commission, a former board member of EUobserver and now a strategic communication and public affairs expert.

Disclaimer

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

'Future EU' conference: good idea, bad timing

Listening to European citizens should be a permanent and continuous process - not merely limited to one event which starts on 9 May 2021 and is to finish before the presidential elections in France in the spring of 2022.

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.

No trolling: EU launches platform to hear citizens' views

The Conference on the Future of Europe, thrown off-track by the pandemic and then by an intra-institutional fight over its leadership, will officially kick off on 9 May, but EU citizens can already start the debate online.

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