The forum, expected to last up to two years, should have been launched on Schuman Day, May 9, but has been delayed over Member State wrangling about its remit and mandate.
No decision has been taken yet on who should chair the conference. The outbreak of the pandemic in March was another reason for the delay.
The aim is supposedly to inject fresh momentum in efforts to reform the EU.
In a resolution adopted last Friday with 528 votes for and 124 against, Parliament declared that “10 years after the Lisbon treaty, 70 years after the Schuman Declaration and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time is ripe for a reappraisal of the Union.”
It adds, “the number of significant crises that the Union has undergone demonstrates that institutional and political reforms are needed in multiple governance areas.”
“Starting this Conference now is so important. It can be a ground-breaking opportunity to achieve a more democratic, legitimate and effective Union” Danuta Hübner MEP
On Thursday, Hübner, a Polish EPP member and former EU commissioner, told this website, “We have been debating the Conference on the Future of Europe for so long that I believe the time has come to make it happen. Social media and webinars clearly show citizens’ attachment to a Europe that cares about its citizens and remains open to the world.”
“Europe’s capacity (or inability) to act can be captured by anti- European populists. That is why starting this Conference now is so important. It can be a ground-breaking opportunity to achieve a more democratic, legitimate and effective Union.”
“It would be, in my view, a shame if this Conference did not open the path towards making our treaties ‘future-proof’, adjusting them to citizens’ needs and expectations. It could also boost the prospects of citizens in what is now an entirely changed global world.”
Further comment came from German Greens member Daniel Freund, a Constitutional Affairs Committee member who, also speaking to this website, said, “In order to get out of the corona crisis stronger and more united we need a substantial reform of the European Union. Our response to past crises has shown that we finally need to address the institutional shortcomings of our union.”
He added, “The Conference on the Future of Europe is the ideal format for this debate. We owe it to those most affected by the crisis to not lose any time and start as soon as possible.”
“In order to get out of the corona crisis stronger and more united we need a substantial reform of the European Union. Our response to past crises has shown that we finally need to address the institutional shortcomings of our union” Daniel Freund MEP
“MEPs have made it very clear with their resolution that the Council has to come up with a draft proposal as soon as possible. European citizens have to be included in this process and we have to start it as an open process. Starting an EU reform and telling the citizens that we don’t want to change anything - including the European treaties - would be absurd.”
Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, a Vice-President of Parliament, told this site, “In our plenary debate we heard from the Croatian presidency that the Council would draw up its position on the Future of Europe Conference as soon as possible. For me, as soon as possible means now. The Parliament decided its position in January, as did the Commission - what is taking the Council so long?”
“Inter-institutional negotiations need to start so that we can kick off the Conference in September. With the COVID-19 crisis, it's more urgent than ever.”
Elsewhere, Denis Macshane, a former UK Minister for Europe, told The Parliament Magazine, “One can only wish this initiative well but the previous convention on the future of Europe chaired by Valery Giscard d’Estaing ended unhappily when its main product, the new EU rule-book known as the EU constitution, was shot down by voters in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005.”
“It was a pity the UK did not have a referendum around then on the constitutional treaty as almost certain British voters, like the Dutch and French, would have voted No. That would have alerted David Cameron to the stupidity of holding a plebiscite which allowed the public a chance to vote against Europe without any regard to what is being voted on.”
The former Socialist UK cabinet minister, added, “I would urge friends taking part in this process to be modest and focused. The founding fathers of Europe did not go in for a grandiose statement and were precise about advancing step by step.”
“But, first, let Europe agree on its recovery fund and the need for solidarity and mutual help in this crisis. Achieve that and there is a good basis for the proposed convention.”
“In our plenary debate we heard from the Croatian presidency that the Council would draw up its position on the future of Europe conference as soon as possible. For me, as soon as possible means now. The Parliament decided its position in January, as did the Commission – what is taking the Council so long?” Mairead McGuinness MEP
Roger Casale, Secretary General of the rights group New Europeans, said, “Citizens and civil society are already at the heart of the conversation about the future of Europe. No new institutional, strategic or policy measure will be possible without their consent.”
“Meanwhile, Europe Future Fringe is up and running, energising the debate about Europe's future. The institutions can wrangle as much as they like. In the end, good conversations require a spark. Europe Future Fringe will provide them.”
Parliament’s resolution on the issue urges the Council to “promptly come forward with a position on the format and organisation of the Conference” so that “citizens’ voices can be heard” on how to tackle internal and external challenges “that were not foreseen at the time of the Lisbon Treaty.”
MEPs call on the other two EU institutions “to engage in negotiations to find common agreement before the summer break.” It welcomes the Commission’s “readiness to go forward in a speedy fashion” but “regrets that the Council has not yet adopted a position.”
MEPs discussed the Conference last week with Croatian State Secretary Nikolina Brnjac and Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica.
The Conference is set to be organised by Parliament, Council and Commission. Parliament says it wants citizens of all backgrounds, civil society representatives and stakeholders at European, national, regional and local level to be involved.
Citizens themselves, says Parliament, should be able to establish the “scope” of the Conference. It also calls for a “meaningful follow-up” to the Conference's conclusions, potentially including a review of the EU Treaties.