The European Parliament will be asked to adopt a resolution at its next plenary later this month calling for the Conference on the Future of Europe to be launched “as soon as possible.”
The forum, which has been keenly championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, must be “at full speed” by the end of the year. It is due to last two years and lead to wide-ranging reform of the EU.
The resolution going to the plenary in the week starting 15 June says that “profound reform” of the EU is needed, partly because the health pandemic “has brought to the surface the EU’s institutional shortcomings.”
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who proposed the resolution, says the move is vital to “break the impasse” caused by Member States’ failure to agree on a mandate for the conference.
The conference was due to have started on 9 May – Schuman Day – but was delayed by the outbreak of the pandemic and also failure of the Council to reach agreement on its composition and objectives.
Parliament - which initiated the idea for a conference - Council and the Commission still have to agree on a start date.
“Most of us agree on the need for the conference, but the question remains as to what we can do actually make it happen” Guy Verhofstadt MEP
The cross-party resolution states that Council “needs to adopt a sensible position soon and commit to reforms agreed by the conference.”
The body must be a “bottom-up exercise with an open agenda,” say MEPs.
In light of the ongoing restrictions caused by the Coronavirus, the resolution also advocates the use of digital technologies to “enable effective citizen participation” in the conference.
A meeting of Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee was told that the COVID-19 crisis has made the need for reforms “more crucial than ever.”
The “shortcomings of the EU and its Member States” especially the failure of a “coordinated response in times of crisis” were highlighted by several MEPs at the meeting, held mostly online due to the health crisis.
Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister who has been tipped by some to chair the conference, pointed out that Council has “failed to agree on a mandate” for the conference which has sparked “fears that it may never get off the ground.”
He hopes the parliamentary resolution will “force Council into taking a position.”
He said, “Most of us agree on the need for the conference but the question remains as to what we can to actually make it happen.”
Verhofstadt notes that the conference of presidents (group leaders) – “the most powerful body in Parliament”- had already called for it to start by September.
He told the Committee meeting, “At the June plenary, we must have a clear resolution on the agenda.”
“It is a chance for the public to exercise their doubts, fears and, yes, scepticism about the EU. We don’t need to link it to the Coronavirus crisis but I hope it will up and running by September” Helmut Scholz MEP
His comments were partly echoed by fellow Committee member, German MEP Helmut Scholz, of the European United Left group, who said, “The conference is seen as a space where EU citizens can have a chance to voice their views. But I am very concerned that Council has not yet taken a position and has not even agreed to it, despite having had the chance to do so since last November.”
“It is a chance for the public to exercise their doubts, fears and, yes, scepticism about the EU. We don’t need to link it to the Coronavirus crisis but I hope it will up and running by September.”
The Committee asked Council to come up with a “sensible negotiating position in the immediate future” with many asking for a “commitment by Member States to implement conference-driven reforms, potentially including treaty change.”
The possibility of changes to the Lisbon Treaty is thought to be one of the stumbling blocks which has, so far, led to the Council impasse.
Roger Casale of the campaign group New Europeans told this website, “It is quite clear that citizens do not want the EU to abandon the Conference on the Future of Europe.”
“The response to COVID-19 in Europe has been citizen-led with remarkable sacrifices and solidarity shown within and between communities and this must be the foundation for the re-building of the European project once the immediate health crisis has passed.”