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4th Mar 2024

EU warned against making 'Future EU' conference a one-off

  • The new German government coalition deal said the conference should be a starting point to reform the EU, triggering 'necessary treaty changes' that lead 'to a European federal state' (Photo: European Committee of the Regions)
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Former European Council president Herman van Rompuy on Wednesday (1 December) warned EU policymakers against making the Conference on the Future of Europe a "one-off exercise," arguing that democracy will continue to be under pressure after 2022.

"Democracy is in crisis, and it will not be over after the conference, so we need to continue our work together to improve democracy at all levels of power," he told local and regional authorities during a plenary debate of the Committee of the Regions.

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While the conference will not bring significant changed to the treaties, "much can be done within the current structure to strengthen and deepen the EU and democracy," he added.

He argued that, for example, the conference presents a unique opportunity to bring the more than one million elected local and regional politicians on the policy agenda "to help restore people trust in the democracy".

"A crucial element of democratic renewal is more participatory democracy," he said, adding that the tools used to provide citizens' input for the conference need to be more widely-used by the "silent majority".

Citizens' input to the conference comes mainly from two sources: a digital platform, where all citizens can post their ideas, endorse others and organise events, and four citizens' panels, which each bring together 200 citizens to make recommendations on the way ahead for Europe.

For Alexander Milisov, one of the young Europeans participating in the panel on EU democracy, "the EU doesn't do a good job in representing itself".

"Citizens don't know what the EU is, what is doing or how it is doing it," he also said, arguing that even those studying regional development in the context of the EU often do not know that the committee of the regions even exists.

"We cannot have a proper democracy without citizens knowing how they are governed," he warned, urging politicians to bring EU bureaucracy and the 'Brussels Bubble' closer to citizens.

After the panels, citizens' recommendations will be discussed by discussed within the conference plenaries – where citizens, EU officials, national deputies, civil society and other bodies are represented.

Citizens' proposals agreed in the plenaries will then be reflected in a final report, which will collate the conclusions of the conference by spring 2022 - a timely date for French president Emmanuel Macron, who was a major force in pushing the idea, as France will then be the rotating presidency of the EU.

But Green member of Germany's Baden-Württemberg parliament, Josef Frey, also pointed out that it is crucial for the conference to have a "next phase" in which proposals are followed by concrete results.

The new German coalition, for its part, stated in its 179-page coalition agreement last month that the conference should be a starting point to reform the EU, triggering "necessary treaty changes" that lead "to a European federal state".

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