Thursday

21st Jan 2021

EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference

  • EU council president Charles Michel (l) with parliament president David Sassoli at the beginning of the EU summit on Thursday (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders on Thursday (12 December) endorsed the idea of holding a two-year post-Brexit soul-searching exercise in the EU at their summit.

Heads of state and government gathering in Brussels - engulfed in a bigger battle over climate targets and budget - briefly discussed holding a 'Conference on the Future of Europe', kicking off next year.

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However, they emphasised that priority should be given to policies rather than an institutional revamp.

Leaders asked the incoming EU presidency of Croatia to hammer out a common position of governments before talks start with the commission and the parliament on how to set up the reform exercise - is planned to end in 2022.

"[The]European Council recalls that priority should be given to implementing the strategic agenda agreed in June, and to delivering concrete results for the benefit of our citizens," leaders said in a statement.

"The conference should contribute to the development of our policies in the medium and long term so that we can better tackle current and future challenges," it added.

The original idea was to first focus on the institutional reform, possibly setting up transnational lists and fine-tuning the lead candidate system (Spitzenkandidat) for the next European elections, but that has now been pushed back to tackle key policies.

In a nod to what is often perceived by member states as 'activism' on the parliament's side, the leaders also said "all member states should be involved "equally" in the conference.

Echoing the cautiousness of member states, their statement added that regarding the conference "there should be shared ownership by EU institutions and member states, including their parliaments".

Some EU diplomats are wary that if the conference descends into an inter-institutional debate, it will fail to engage EU citizens.

Brussels bubble issues

"We need a down-to-earth approach, a lot is at stake if this is not done carefully," one EU diplomat warned.

"We should talk about policies, not institutions. Outside of Brussels people are less interested in internal matters," the official added.

Last week, the parliament's the constitutional affairs committee adopted an opinion on the conference, which is the basis for a resolution to be adopted in January.

The parliament hopes the resolution would serve as a basis for the inter-institutional agreement on "the objectives, concept, structure, governance, scope, timeframe and format" of the conference.

The parliament also aims to have an MEP as chair of the conference. Former Belgian prime minister and MEP Guy Verhofstadt has been mentioned by parliament sources as a candidate for the position.

Some member states are also reluctant to change the EU treaty as an outcome of the conference.

"We should not commit that this process should lead to treaty change," cautioned another EU diplomat.

"The parliament is pushing that the chair should be from the parliament - but this is not the most important issue for Europe to solve," the official quipped.

On Thursday night, parliament president David Sassoli sounded trying to sooth leaders' cautiousness after talking to leaders.

"We want that process to involve other institutions. You need consensus if you want to reform democracy," he told journalists.

EU gears up for post-Brexit renovation

Both EU member states and the parliament want to be ready in January with an agreement on how to involve citizens in a serious attempt to rethink the future of the EU. But institutional issues would come first.

Analysis

From Bratislava to Rome: Little more than a show of unity

The so-called Bratislava process of reflection for the EU came to an end on Saturday, but there were few tangible results that citizens could take away from the soul-searching. Despite that, unity among the EU-27 has been maintained.

Analysis

Sibiu: EU leaders prepare post-Brexit show of unity

With the European elections just three weeks away, the EU-27 will try to set the agenda for the next years for the EU institutions. But with persisting divisions on key issues, unity will be an achievement in itself.

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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