Party of European Socialists leader Sergei Stanishev says this weekend’s keenly awaited launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe is a “time to reconnect the European project.”
The Bulgarian MEP was speaking as the much awaited forum finally gets going on Saturday in Strasbourg.
The conference, a joint initiative by the European Parliament, Council and Commission, aims to give citizens an active voice on issues they believe most relevant to the future of the EU.
The new forum’s plenary will be composed of 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per Member State) and three from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national parliaments.
European citizens, European, national, regional and local authorities, as well as civil society and other organisations are also free to take part.
The inaugural plenary session will take place in Strasbourg on Saturday morning, preceded by meetings of the representatives in their political caucuses the day before.
“It is time to reconnect the European project with citizens and their ambitions for a fairer and more sustainable continent” Party of European Socialists leader, Sergei Stanishev
The agenda, seen by this site, includes presentations and discussions on the purpose and expectations of the conference, including European citizens' and national panels.
Portugal, the current holder of the EU’s six-month rotating Council presidency, organised the first ‘European Citizens’ Event’ earlier this week.
The EU-wide Party of European Socialists will hold a caucus meeting on Friday and Stanishev said, “This is an important moment; our political family understands that instinctively. We have an opportunity to embed what matters for our communities into Europe’s future.”
“It is time to reconnect the European project with citizens and their ambitions for a fairer and more sustainable continent.”
Socialist leader in the European Parliament Iratxe García Pérez said, “The conference is about making the EU fairer, more sustainable and better equipped for future challenges to respond to people’s needs and expectations.”
“These are not decisions that the Brussels bubble should make alone. These caucus meetings will provide the opportunity for us to come together as a political family, to work toward a common vision for a fairer future so that we can revive the spirit of solidarity that gave birth to the EU in the first place.”
"For the first time there is a common initiative of the three EU institutions, supported by all national parliaments, and involving citizens. Everyone will be there" Belgian Renew Europe MEP Guy Verhofstadt
Elsewhere, the conference launch has been welcomed by the “self determination caucus” in parliament, described as a pro-European group, which was formed in January by MEPs defending and promoting, “the right to self-determination for the peoples and communities of the EU's stateless nations and nations with territorial disputes.”
In a statement the group said, “This conference will be a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between European peoples and the EU institutions and to reflect on deep reform of the European Union in order to move towards a truly democratic, sustainable and inclusive Union.”
“We will defend the need for a European Clarity Act, as a tool to resolve democratic disputes over self-determination in the EU through democracy, diversity, dialogue and decision. That European Clarity Act would be inspired, among other tools, by the Good Friday Agreement.”
The Self-Determination Caucus will be represented by three of its members: Chris MacManus (Ireland, The Left), Carles Puigdemont i Casamajo (Catalonia, Non-Attached) & Jordi Solé (Catalonia, Greens/EFA).
Also speaking just ahead of the launch, senior Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt argued that the conference “is necessary to put pressure on the EU and prepare it for the future.”
He was addressing the launch of the Conference Observatory, a new initiative that will “monitor, analyse and advise” on how the forum is performing.
"The conference will only be a success if it creates a bigger public debate. If it is covered in Brussels darkness and remains unnoticed in Member States, it will fail" Dominik Hierlemann, senior expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung
Verhofstadt, one of the co-chairs of the conference plenary, said that “despite the difficulties and delays, it is necessary to have the conference now to create a pressure that cannot be denied anymore and force institutional reform.”
The former Belgian Prime Minister admitted that the conference's governance was a "bureaucratic nightmare" but said it is still a unique exercise.
He said for the "first time there is a common initiative of the three EU institutions, supported by all national parliaments, and involving citizens. Everyone will be there."
Dominik Hierlemann, senior expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung, said, "The conference will only be a success if it creates a bigger public debate.2
“If it is covered in Brussels darkness and remains unnoticed in Member States, it will fail. With the Conference Observatory, we want to create a go-to place for all those interested in the conference."
Meanwhile European Policy Centre Director of Studies, Janis Emmanouilidis said, "It is important that we try and make the best out of the conference. Despite some of its design flaws, it can serve to test citizen participation on a larger scale in the EU, bring citizens closer to decision-making in 'far-off Brussels' and provide fresh ideas on where the European project should go next.”
"With the Conference Observatory, we will monitor, assess and advise the conference and, overall, try to make sure that it will make a difference.”