Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Future of Europe Conference: Council urged to move now

  • 'We should have a debate with no taboos, this includes treaty changes,' said MEP Dominique Ruiz Devesa (Photo: European Commission)

Members of the European Parliament's committee on constitutional affairs on Tuesday (26 May) urged EU leaders to agree on a common position on the Conference on the Future of Europe - which is intended to reconnect the European project with its citizens.

"The only missing piece of the puzzle is the [EU] Council position," said socialist MEP Gabriele Bischoff, stressing that "the conference is more necessary than ever".

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Following the meeting of EU affairs ministers on Tuesday, the EU commissioner of inter-institutional relations and foresight, Maroš Šefčovič, also stressed that the EU Council's standpoint is now crucial to speed up the negotiations with all the institutions and prepare the debates.

Šefčovič is optimistic about reaching an EU Council's position under the Croatian presidency, due to end on 30 June.

"The time has come to reach the final compromise. I do expect the compromise and joint determination is here to achieve it in a short period of time," said the Croatian state-secretary for European Affairs, Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, who chaired the discussion.

The two-year event, which was initially scheduled for Europe Day (9 May), was postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Ticking clock

But MEPs aim to launch the conference in September under Germany's presidency of the Council - which would require a joint position of the three main EU institutions before the summer.

According to socialist MEP Brando Benifei, "the pandemic should not be used to justify the preexisting resistance of one part of the council [towards this initiative]".

"Instead, the EU parliament should lead the way to push forward this process that is crucial to saving the future of our union," he also said.

Bottom up?

The discussion so far about the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was an idea from French president Emmanuel Macron, have been mainly focused on who should be involved and take charge - instead of on the scope or content of the event.

The EU parliament was the first EU institution to set out its ideas in a resolution with a detailed plan on the structure of the conference, involving citizens, civil society and other stakeholders at the national, regional and local level.

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) chairman Manfred Weber and the liberal Renew MEP Guy Verhofstadt were proposed as leaders of the process supposedly described as a "bottom-up" event.

Meanwhile, the EU Commission is developing digital platforms that would enable engagement with citizens all across Europe until face-to-face meeting are possible again.

However, MEPs stressed that the content is key.

"The urgency to have a dialogue with citizens was never more needed, but we need to listen and not talk," EPP MEP Mairead McGuinness said.

"It was very clear that what citizens wanted in a crisis they did not get it. They wanted a strong Europe that is flexible, response and cohesive," she added.

Likewise, German chancellor Angela Merkel said last week, at a joint press conference with Macron, that the event will also have to reflect lessons learnt from the pandemic.

'No taboos'

The European Commission described the initiative as an "open dialogue" whose outcome could entitle structural reforms in the EU, including legislative initiatives or possible treaty changes.

However, EU affairs minister steered clear of committing to any possible treaty change earlier this year - since many member states argue that there is ample room for improvement under the current treaty set up.

According to the Italian president of the European Federalists, Sandro Gozi, "the reform of the EU and the treaties are part of a sustainable and effective response to the [coronavirus] crisis".

"We should have a debate with no taboos, this includes treaty changes," said socialist MEP Dominique Ruiz Devesa.

"We need a meaningful commitment to actual deliverables at the end, we need a meaningful change in the treaties, in legislation and in the way we spend money in the EU," said MEP Daniel Freund from the Greens.

Meanwhile, Verhofstadt wants to put forward a resolution for the next plenary session in June calling explicitly on the EU Council to move forward to launch the conference in September.

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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