If the intention of the recently launched Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is to bring citizens closer to the EU institutions and reinvent the European Project, then its launch in Strasbourg represents a good start.
The first plenary of the Conference on 19 June also saw the launch of a cross-party group of MEPs who are committed to working on EU citizenship alongside several European civil society organisations and citizens.
This particular initiative is led by the European Citizens' Rights, Involvement and Trust (ECIT) Foundation, which also took the opportunity to launch the first ever draft statute for EU citizenship rights.
However, the idea for a statute does not come in a vacuum, as often is the case.
Just a few months before the 2019 European elections, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which also recommended an ‘EU Statute of Citizenship’ similar to and alongside the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Such a citizenship statute would include fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Parliament’s Petitions Committee also adopted a report in which it suggested a new European Convention for the purpose of revising the Treaty to advance the possibilities of EU citizenship.
"There is a need to understand that the status of EU citizenship goes beyond the nationality of their Member State"
The question is: is the Conference on the Future of Europe such an opportunity?
Richard Corbett, the former UK Socialist MEP was at our launch and stressed that perhaps ‘conference’ is the wrong word to describe the CoFoE. Instead, he suggested that it should be seen as the biggest ever exercise in engaging citizens at the EU level.
Even so, a clear element focusing on EU citizenship is currently absent in the CoFoE.
The initial cross-party group consists of 13 MEPs from five political parties. During our launch event five of these members spoke and stressed the importance of bringing EU citizenship closer to the debate.
Key aspects that emerged from our event were: the need to strengthen political rights in the EU and fill existing gaps. Another was the need to expand and complete the Statute of EU Citizenship Rights to incorporate new rights, such as health and environmental rights, as well as promoting this with what could be called ‘citizenship education.’
Spanish Renew Europe deputy Maite Pagazaurtundúa, rapporteur of a parliamentary report on the issue, stressed that we need a clear codification that fully develops the four freedoms, especially the freedom of movement, so that EU citizens have a clear reference of what it means to be Europeans.
There is a need to understand that the status of EU citizenship goes beyond the nationality of their Member State.
Estonian Renew Europe member Yana Toom stressed that the concept of EU citizenship is “not about the colour of our passports but about being European”.
This is a statement which connects us to the spring of 2022, when the French Presidency of the EU Council will, we hope, promote the theme of ‘belonging’ as one of its core priorities.
"Citizens can help the EU co-create solutions and find answers to managing future crises as well promoting democratic governance in the EU. But this can only be achieved if EU citizenship and its associated rights are put at the heart of the Conference on the Future of Europe"
German GUE/NGL MEP Helmut Scholz, who is also an observer on the CoFoE’s influential Executive Board, highlighted the fact that the EU is more than a single market and that EU citizenship needs to be understood.
The Conference should help in this way but we must go beyond the current Treaties.
The level of complexity of the CoFoE should not deter us from seeking to engage with the conference because, after all, we are trying to navigate a future that is also increasingly complex.
This initial exercise of engagement between the EU institutions and citizens can, I hope, pave the way for a continued model of more direct transnational democracy in the EU.
Citizens can help the EU co-create solutions and find answers to managing future crises as well promoting democratic governance in the EU.
But this can only be achieved if EU citizenship and its associated rights are put at the heart of the Conference on the Future of Europe.