On Wednesday, 10th March, President von der Leyen (European Commission), President Sassoli (European Parliament), and President Costa (Council of the EU) signed the Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe, which will begin next May 9th and end in spring 2022. The Declaration, ratified at the headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels, opens the way for a series of debates that will allow EU citizens to share their ideas to help shape the future of Europe.
What do European citizens think about this Conference?
Three Europeans out of four believe that the Conference on the Future of Europe will have a positive impact on European democracy. 76% EU citizens firmly agrees that the Conference has the potential to revitalise European democracy; 51% underlines the importance of involving people of all backgrounds, civil society representatives and stakeholders at European, national, regional and local level; 47% affirms that young people should play a crucial role in the Conference. The most enthusiastic answers arrived from Ireland (81%), Belgium (64%), Luxemburg (63%), and Slovenia (63%).
Who proposed the Conference on the Future of Europe?
In spring 2019, the French President Macron, proposed a European Conference, that, in his vision, should have been the occasion to organise an open and bottom-up (citizens-EU institutions) debate, aimed at relaunching the European project, born with Jean Monnet’s Schuman Declaration.
Afterwards, in June 2020, the Conference on the Future of Europe was proposed by Commission President von der Leyen. The Conference on the Future of Europe was expected to start in May 2020 (May 9th, Europe Day) and run for two years, yet the Covid-19 pandemic halted the Conference preparation process. The EU Parliament worked tirelessly in order to resume this initiative and engaged in numerous debates with the Council and the Commission.
On January 27th, during an AFCO (Committee on Constitutional Affairs) meeting, MEPs debated about the participation of European citizens to the Conference on the Future of Europe. In a resolution adopted with 528 votes for, 124 against and 45 abstentions, EU Parliament declared that “10 years after the Lisbon Treaty, 70 years after the Schuman Declaration and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time is ripe for a reappraisal of the Union.” MEPs added: “The number of significant crises that the Union has undergone demonstrates that institutional and political reforms are needed in multiple governance areas”.
The Schuman Declaration, which laid the foundations of the European Union, started a unique political project to guarantee peace and prosperity, and to improve the lives of all European citizens. Almost 71 years ago, the Schuman Declaration contained the idea that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” Jean Monnet, the author of the Schuman Declaration, declared that “people do not change if it is not out of necessity, and they only see the need in times of crisis”. Each crisis is an opportunity to take a step forward. Likewise, the current pandemic heightens the urgency for the European Union to start to work on how to become more effective, democratic and closer to its citizens.
Parliament’s President David Sassoli stated: “We need to review all mechanisms of democratic governance following on from the European elections. This should be done in conjunction with national institutions and with the involvement of the citizens of Europe. We are ushering in a new era of reforms.”
Who will chair the Conference?
The question is quite complex at the European level: the most favoured, and divisive name is Guy Verhofstadt. He is an MEP and former Belgian PM - openly declared federalist, always ready when it comes to the revision of EU Treaties. His engagement is strong in almost all parliamentary discussions, in fact, when he remains silent for too long… someone always notices and checks if he’s ok!
According to the proposal draft, the Conference will be chaired by six presidents: von der Leyen, Sassoli, Michel, and three members of an executive committee.
Who will participate and how long will the Conference last?
Parliament has formally invited citizens of all backgrounds, civil society representatives and stakeholders at European, national, regional and local level to be involved in setting the EU’s priorities in line with citizens’ concerns in a bottom-up, transparent, and inclusive approach. The EP insisted: citizens have to be at the core of broad discussions on how to tackle internal and external challenges that the EU is and will be facing, that were not foreseen at the time of the Lisbon Treaty.
The EP proposes the establishment of several Citizens’ Agoras, and at least two Youth Agoras. Citizen representatives will discuss Agora conclusions at the Conference Plenary with MEPs and national parliament representatives, Council ministers, Commission Vice-Presidents and representatives of other EU institutions, bodies and social partners.
The Conference will start in May 2021 and end in spring 2022, when France, Macron, will hold the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the circle closes!).
It is not yet clear how participants will be chosen, if they will be randomly selected or selected on the basis of specific criteria.
The EP urges Council and Commission to commit to the possibility of treaty change: if citizens express such a proposal, it shall be taken into consideration. The adopted text also underlines that a permanent mechanism to engage citizens should be considered, in order to ensure a civic dimensioned-EU.
In occasion of the signature of the Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe, last Wednesday, Council President in charge, Portuguese PM Costa affirmed: “We know we do not all share the same vision about the future of the EU, and that is precisely why the Conference on the Future of Europe is so important right now: we will have the chance to discuss openly about our different ideas and divergent visions. Only through dialogue we can overcome the differences and retrieve what unites us, in order to build a stronger and more inclusive European Union”.