Conference on EU’s future must be open to citizens beyond Brussels bubble

The much-delayed Conference on the Future of Europe is set to start in early May, after the leaders of two of the EU’s main institutions finally gave it the green light at a formal ceremony on Wednesday.
European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

10 Mar 2021

On Wednesday, Parliament’s President David Sassoli and his Commission counterpart Ursula von der Leyen joined Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa in signing a joint declaration on the Conference.

The forum will be launched on 9 May and the first conclusions of its debate are expected to be drawn in one year’s time, in the spring of 2022.

A Commission spokesman said, “This begins the process that will enable citizens to participate in reshaping the EU’s policies and institutions and to address challenges old and new, while strengthening European solidarity.”

But, speaking at a news conference in Parliament, Iratxe García Pérez, leader of the Socialist group in Parliament, cautioned that the forum must also embrace representatives from a wide range of society.

She told reporters, “It is excellent news that the leaders are signing this agreement today to promote work on the Conference. It is a year late starting because of the crisis but also because of the blockage between Council and Parliament.”

This is a reference to the year-long inter-EU wrangling, only recently resolved, over the composition and leadership of the forum.

“This crisis has shown more than ever how vital it is now to discuss the future of the EU and to ensure that it complies with what citizens want.”

“We want to involve national parliaments, civil society, associations and all representative European institutions in this democratic debate”

Dacian Cioloş, Renew Europe leader

She added, “That is why I now hope that the participants will not be politicians or representatives of the EU institutions.”

“It must also be open to everyone from across the spectrum, be it civil society, NGOs, unions, all citizens and people from national and regional parliaments. Each of these will have big role to play in this review. This is very important because the success or otherwise of this very much depends on how much it moves outside the Brussels bubble.”

Further comment came from Dacian Cioloş, leader of the Renew Europe group, who said, “The Conference is a unique exercise in continental participative democracy. All of Europe’s problems will be put on the table. All solutions will be envisaged. It’ll be a Conference with the citizens and without taboos.”

The Romanian deputy went on, “This unprecedented democratic exercise will give European citizens a direct say on the Europe they want. All subjects will be up for debate, including the strengthening of democratic decision-making processes at European level.”

“It is a matter of opening doors and windows, of giving citizens their rightful place in the construction of the European project.”

He says the Conference’s debates can be organised “in many different ways”, at national, local, regional and also at European level.

“I hope that the participants will not be politicians or representatives of the EU institutions; it must also be open to everyone from across the spectrum … This is very important because the success or otherwise of this very much depends on how much it moves outside the Brussels bubble”

Iratxe García Pérez, S&D leader

“Citizens’ agoras will be created, they will have to reflect European diversity and European citizens will also have the opportunity to express themselves through an interactive and multilingual digital platform.”

He said, “We also want to involve national parliaments, civil society, associations and all representative European institutions in this democratic debate.”

Cioloş said, “They should take the form of concrete proposals for the future of Europe.”

He said his group had already prepared citizens’ panels, whose contributions will feed into the work of the forum while Parliament “will play a leading role.”

He added, “We have fought hard for this so today it is a great cause for satisfaction. Europeans will be able to speak up and say what kind of Europe they want and we invite them all to take an active part in this exercise.”

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