Conference on Future of Europe condemned as federalist attempt to extend EU powers

The Conference was due to start on 9 May, a symbolically important date for the EU as it is the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration.
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By Martin Banks

27 May 2020

The start of the Conference has suffered delays due to both the Coronavirus crisis and also Member States’ failure to agree on a mandate for the new body. Council has so far failed to reach agreement on the person who will chair it.

In a Constitutional Affairs Committee debate on the Conference in Parliament on Tuesday, some members criticised the whole concept of such an initiative.

They include Belgian deputy Gerolf Annemans, of the Eurosceptic Identity and Democracy group, who said, “The more I hear about this Conference I am more afraid that it will only be a show.”


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“The EU is at a crossroads, choosing between more or less federalism but this micro-conference is just a show to give the federalists a chance to go ever further and deeper in their European project but without democratic debate.”

“I hope that if it goes ahead the Conference will also offer an alternative voice to the one calling for ‘more EU.’ Rather than going further and deeper by more enlargement there is an alternative voice to be heard. We should heed the lessons from Brexit.”

“President Macron wants a ‘grand debate’ but, if so, this should also be with the EU’s critics being heard as well.”

“The EU is at a crossroads, choosing between more or less federalism but this micro-conference is just a show to give the federalists a chance to go ever further and deeper in their European project but without democratic debate” Gerolf Annemans MEP

His comments were echoed by Belgian ECR member Geert Bourgeois, who said, “This Conference is not necessary and is no argument for justifying it because of the current crisis. There is no reason why the crisis should have to lead to such a conference being organised.”

“Instead, the EU should focus on protecting our businesses against trade wars, digital and R&D investment.”

“Only a small elite will be involved and we will not hear the voice of Joe Bloggs in the street even though the EU is supposed to be based on representative democracy. The EU should not have delusions of grandeur.”

He said if the initiative goes ahead it should be “bottom up and not top down.”

Italian NI member Fabio Castaldo agreed, saying, “The approach should be bottom up, not top down. And nor should it be a mere formal, cosmetic exercise. It should be a chance to give the EU a more active and participatory role and it must also consider a revision to the Lisbon Treaty.”

Italian Socialist Brando Benifei said, “The Conference should have already begun in an attempt to reform the EU and it is a shame it has not started. May 9 would have been a symbolic date.”

“Only a small elite will be involved and we will not hear the voice of Joe Bloggs in the street even though the EU is supposed to be based on representative democracy” Geert Bourgeois MEP

“We don’t want empty talks and it must be set up in such a way that is does not become just a rhetorical exercise. This is crucial in order to so save the EU.”

The Committee Vice-Chair Gabriele Bischoff, a German Socialist, told the meeting, “It would have been interesting to know what would have happened if the Council had been ready to start on 9 May. I now hope Council can quickly manage to agree on a mandate because the Conference is more needed than ever. If the crisis has proved anything it is that.”

Parliament, she said, “was always in the driving seat” of the initiative and the “only missing piece of the puzzle now is the Council position.”

“Council has not agreed on a mandate and is delaying again but it’s very important this Conference starts as soon as possible and with citizens involved so that we can provide a strong impetus to restart Europe.”

Portuguese EPP member Paulo Rangel said, “After this health crisis the Conference is even more needed than before. This is because things like the rule of law and the Green Deal are more at stake now than before the crisis.”

He added, “I appeal to Council to take a sensible, reasonable position so we can have debate on the problems and struggles the EU has. It is crucial also to have huge citizen participation in this Conference though.”

“After this health crisis the Conference is even more needed than before. This is because things like the rule of law and the Green Deal are more at stake now than before the crisis” Paulo Rangel MEP

Spanish Socialist Domenec Devesa said, “It now more the  case that EU reform is needed but the Conference must not be an end in itself but, rather, a start on a debate about Europe’s future. We must have an open debate and this must start no later than September.”

Pascal Durand, a French RE member, complained about the time allocated for the discussion on Tuesday, telling the chair, “We cannot have a serious debate in 45 minutes – that is insufficient. On Monday, I attended a committee that had four hours in a debate so 45 minutes to talk about the EU’s future – which is in danger - is insufficient.”

French RE deputy Sandro Gozi said he hopes the Conference will “start soon” during the upcoming German presidency while German Greens member Daniel Freund told the Committee the event “is more urgent than ever and the Council needs to get on with it.”

He said, “But we need a joint position between the three EU institutions before the summer. The Conference has also got to lead to some meaningful change such as how the EU spends its money.”

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