Portugal’s EU affairs minister Ana Paula Zacarias has admitted the much-vaunted conference on the EU’s future cannot be a panacea for EU ills. Rather, she said the exercise is a chance to bring citizens “closer to the EU”.
The Minister, representing the Portuguese Presidency at the launch of a “digital platform” to be used by the public to take part in the Conference, told reporters, “This Conference is not going to change the world and nor is it a panacea. I realise that but I do hope that it will make a difference so the more that take part in it the merrier.”
She added, “We need young and old to get involved. In the end, the most important ideas will be considered but we have only one year for this.”
“The platform will bring Europeans into the public space. It will allow them to express their concerns, share their dreams and expectations and to engage with their representatives. The Union needs the power of its citizens behind it to make it stronger. This is a decisive moment, and this will allow us to debate differing views frankly and without taboos.”
Speaking at the same press conference, Guy Verhofstadt, a Liberal MEP, said he hopes the Conference, to launch in Strasbourg on 9 May, will “provide the backbone for the reforms that the EU needs”.
“The Union needs the power of its citizens behind it to make it stronger. This is a decisive moment, and this will allow us to debate differing views frankly and without taboos” Ana Paula Zacarias, Secretary of State for European Affairs of Portugal
The deputy, a co-chair of the Conference’s executive board, said, “We have seen others exercised in the past but not like this, so we need as many as possible to take part. As far as the Conference is concerned, the sky is the limit.”
Both were speaking at the launch of the platform on Monday. The technology, said Verhofstadt, will help Europe’s 450 million citizens take part in the upcoming Conference.
He said, “We need to make this discussion as lively as possible, and in times of Covid that means to experiment with digital platforms as much as we can. With this platform, we offer the tools to give everyone a chance to get actively engaged in this debate, and we will make sure these ideas feed into the analysis and conclusions of the Conference. It’s their future, so it’s their conference.”
Dubraka Suica, Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, said the multilingual platform aims to be a “central hub” for citizens’ contributions and will link local, regional and national input. All contributions will be “fully” taken on board, she added.
“With this platform, we offer the tools to give everyone a chance to get actively engaged in this debate, and we will make sure these ideas feed into the analysis and conclusions of the Conference. It’s their future, so it’s their conference” Guy Verhofstadt (BE, Renew Europe)
The Commissioner said the platform will allow citizens from across Europe to contribute directly and provide their views on any topic that they consider important for the future of the EU. “It will ensure and facilitate an open and inclusive participatory democracy debate.”
This is the first time at EU level that the public can put forward their ideas, comment on other people’s ideas, create and participate in events, she added.
She continued, “The platform is a place where all contributions to the conference will be brought together and shared, including decentralised events, the European Citizens’ Panels and Conference Plenaries.”
A specialised “feedback mechanism will aggregate and analyse” key points raised, so that they can also be taken into account later.
The platform will also provide information on the Conference’s structure and work, as well as resources for event organisers including a catalogue of key events through which they will be able to promote their initiatives at local, regional, national, and European levels. Citizens will easily be able to look up events in which they wish to participate thanks to an events map.
Šuica added, “The platform will provide a unique space for our citizens to engage in conversations and debates right across Europe. It will allow people to share their ideas, concerns, hopes and dreams – and in all official EU languages. Momentum is now growing, and I look forward to seeing the outcome. This Conference can blaze a trail for the EU.”
The Conference’s official hashtag #TheFutureIsYours is, she said, “an invitation to EU citizens to contribute and define the EU’s future: “The future is in your hands”. Each of the EU’s institutions will finance its own events but she declined to give an official cost of the whole exercise.
“Momentum is now growing, and I look forward to seeing the outcome. This Conference can blaze a trail for the EU” Dubraka Suica, Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography
Verhofstadt said the launch came a day after the formation of the EU, 70 years ago in 1951. He added, “This is a good moment to launch this platform, signalling the start of the conference which is itself an unprecedented exercise.
“This platform is not just a mere consultation of citizens but a totally new interactive instrument where people can participate in different ways, ranging from a passive way or an active way by participating directly in the debate. They can be activists in the conference, for example, by creating their own events.”
“This has never been done by the EU in the past and this platform will be the core, the engine and flywheel of the whole conference and offer the possibility for all to take part.”
“This will lead to the second phase of the Conference - citizens panels. These are not new, but they are the first time we have done this on a transnational, European level to develop a new vision.”
He admitted, “I know there is a lot of scepticism about this and that is normal but let us not be sceptical because this is the start of new phase in Europe history.”