Conference on Future of Europe should not be ‘tokenistic rubber-stamping exercise’ say MEPs

The conference is due to start on 9 May - Europe Day - and last up to two years. It seeks to address the measures deemed necessary to reform the EU.
credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

15 Jan 2020

The body is expected to be chaired by Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt and will heavily involve civil society and EU citizens.

According to a resolution expected to be adopted by Parliament this week, the conference will comprise between 200 to 300 citizens (representative in terms of age, gender, social origin and level of education), with a minimum of three per Member State.

In a vote on Wednesday, MEPs will outline Parliament's position on the conference.


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Polish MEP Danuta Hubner, taking part in a plenary debate on the initiative in Parliament on Wednesday, told MEPs, “This is a chance to initiate an unprecedented open debate on Europe’s future.”

“This conference can bring added value. The 2019 elections proved that EU citizens now expect more from the EU than in the past. They want to participate in responding to challenges we face so we should use this as an opportunity to learn how we can do this.”

“We now need to go into listening mode,” said the EPP member, a former EU Commissioner.

Her comments were partly echoed by Italian MEP Antonio Tajani, who said, “We have seen the weakness of the EU in the current crisis in the Middle East so we must be able to respond as a united Europe to these and other challenges.”

“The 2019 elections proved that EU citizens now expect more from the EU than in the past. They want to participate in responding to challenges we face” Danuta Hubner MEP

“We need concerted action but that does not mean curbing national identities. One thing I hope the conference will do is to give this Parliament the right of legislative initiate like other parliaments around the world.”

UK Greens MEP Scott Ainslie said he hopes the conference “not be reduced to a tokenistic rubber-stamping exercise.”

He added, “It is vital and absolutely critical that it amplifies voices of citizens.”

Dutch ECR member Derk Eppink told the plenary, “We are at a crossroads in Europe but we also need to have the same debate in Member States.”

Meanwhile, ECR co-leader Ryszard Legutko accused a coalition of the EPP, Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the far-left within the Parliament of attempting to “seize control of the conference agenda and excluding groups that hold a different view on the future of European integration.”

“We have seen the weakness of the EU in the current crisis in the Middle East so we must be able to respond as a united Europe to these and other challenges” Antonio Tajani MEP

The ECR has tabled a separate text calling for the conference to be “genuinely open if it is to have any value in the debate on the EU's future.”

Speaking during Wednesday’s debate Legutko said, “The conference is simply regarded as a springboard for the next great leap forward in European integration. It has a pre-determined outcome as we have heard this morning and the attitude in this house is that the aim justifies the means. The aim being ever closer union.”

“Their proposal is wrong because it gives the Parliament the leading role in the process to the detriment of national parliaments. The democratic legitimacy of national parliaments is far, far greater than that of the European Parliament. It also includes transnational lists, the Spitzenkandidat process and greater competences for the Union at the expense of Member States.”

He added, “It doesn't take much intelligence to predict that all of this will exacerbate the divisions in Europe which are already deep and worrying.”

Elsewhere, the EPP wants the conference to be a “listening exercise”, which, after two years, leads to “concrete proposals, what we want to change in the EU.”

“The planned conference must first of all be a listening exercise. We want a broad, open, interactive and inclusive debate all across our continent about what kind of European Union we want in the future” Paulo Rangel MEP

Paulo Rangel, EPP vice chairman in charge of preparing the conference, said, “First, we have to listen. We cannot shape the future of Europe without listening to the citizens. The planned conference must first of all be a listening exercise. We want a broad, open, interactive and inclusive debate all across our continent about what kind of European Union we want in the future.”

Parliament wants to organise six so-called ‘Agora’ across Europe. Agora was the name of the central public space in ancient Greece.

“These will be the fora, where ordinary citizens from all 27 Member States can come up with ideas,” explained Rangel.

“Think-tanks, associations and companies should use other channels,” he added.

“At the end of a two-year process, the conference should produce concrete and workable proposals, what we want to change in the EU. We must turn ideas into action,” Rangel said.

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