CoFoE mired in disagreement; given fifty-fifty chance of starting as planned

Senior figures involved in organising the Conference on the Future of Europe met on Wednesday in a bid to resolve outstanding issues in order to allow Sunday’s much-heralded launch to take place.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

06 May 2021

The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) has been hailed as a “once in a lifetime chance” to undertake major EU reforms, something that has taken on added importance since Brexit.

The launch on May 9 is supposed to be a physical event with limited participation in Strasbourg, but it is believed that no official programme has been agreed as yet.

A parliamentary source close to the negotiations says the launch looks “less and less likely” unless a compromise can be found.

Difficulties are said to include agreeing on a mandate for the Conference, what its aims should be, how it should function and even if Sunday’s launch should still go ahead.

Parliament’s delegation, made up of seven senior MEPs, to the Executive Board of the Conference, met on Wednesday to discuss the problems.

The Conference’s three co-chairs from the EU’s three main institutions – the Commission, Council and Parliament, also met in order to resolve the same issue. They are due to resume their talks today.

The source said, “Major disagreements remain on the basics of the Conference and even if the launch can now happen. The same people will meet again today and we will learn in course of the day what will happen.”

“It is a bizarre situation. We are three days away from the launch of a major EU event that may now not happen.”

“Major disagreements remain on the basics of the Conference and even if the launch can now happen … It is a bizarre situation. We are three days away from the launch of a major EU event that may now not happen”

Parliamentary source close to CoFoE negotiations

One of the key questions is thought to be the scale of citizen involvement in the Conference. Member states have suggested a total of 108 citizens should be allowed to take part in the influential, four-per-year, plenary sessions but there is uncertainty about this.

The source said, “Who these citizens will be, how they are selected and where they will come from is, even now, still not decided. Some have asked: what is the point of just putting 108 randomly-selected citizens on the plenary?”

“The Council is also saying there should be all sorts of red lines about what citizens can actually propose and, again, there is no agreement on this. Even if the launch goes ahead no one really knows yet what the topics to be discussed will be.”

He said, “The Council has dragged this out for over a year and the hope was that agreeing on a 9 May start would focus everyone’s minds on finding an agreement on all these things.That has not happened.”

“We are 3 days away and, as yet, no official invitations have even been sent out, for example, to journalists.”

“Emmanuel Macron has not even officially confirmed if he will be there on Sunday as he is supposed to be. We have seen a draft programme but none of it has actually been confirmed.”

The source added, “If the launch is postponed that would be a serious blow to the Conference and would send out a very bad signal. You also have to ask who meets the costs incurred so far?”

“The Commission and Council want the Conference plenary to have no decision-taking role. It would just be a forum for debate”

Source close to the CoFoE

“The parties involved need to ask if this whole thing is doomed from the outset. There is still some hope for a compromise on the various issues and one hopes this can be found in course of today.”

He went on, “Right now, it seems there is no ambition or political accountability. All we have are people engaged in backroom discussions and no one knows what is going on. It makes you wonder if it is worth having the Conference.”

“Parliament’s delegation meets today and they will have to give it the thumbs up or thumbs down. So far, all we have had is the Executive Board meeting behind closed doors with little publicity given about what is being discussed.”

The source said, “Right now, I do not know if agreement can be found or is possible before Sunday. It is a bizarre situation and we are all in a bit of a limbo.”

A separate source close to the conference confirmed to this website that there were problems, adding, “The Commission and Council want the Conference plenary to have no decision-taking role. It would just be a forum for debate.”

“The Conference conclusions would be written by the Executive Board - that is, the representatives of the very institutions to which the conclusions are supposed to be addressed. All the power would be in the hands of the 9 full members of the Executive Board, each of whom has a veto, meaning that the Council can veto any Conference conclusion before it is published.”

“This might just be a negotiating position. The co-chairs are meeting today to try and resolve it.”

Another European Parliament source said that four political groups - the EPP, S&D, Greens and Renew Europe - are “taking a tough line” and have warned that unless “satisfactory rules” are agreed for the Conference beforehand they will demand that its launch on Sunday is cancelled.

No one from the Executive Board of the Conference was immediately available for comment.

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