David McAllister, who chairs parliament’s influential foreign affairs committee, was among a host of MEPs, current and past, and others who were canvassed by this website for their views on the conference which launched in Strasbourg on May 9.
The citizen-based consultation forum, which will last one year, finally got going after months of delay caused by inter-institutional wrangling and the COVID-19 health pandemic.
The Conference seeks to define a reform strategy for the European Union. It comprises panels made up of ordinary citizens who will meet regularly but it will be overseen by the presidents of each of the EU’s three main institutions, the European Commission, Council and Parliament.
McAllister, a German member of the Parliament’s centre-right EPP Group, told The Parliament Magazine, "I welcome this opportunity to have an open dialogue with European citizens about the future of our Union. Many citizens want a stronger, united and assertive EU foreign policy. I hope that this conference will bring new food for thought on the EU's role in international affairs in the 21st century."
Further comment comes from ECR Group deputy Zdzisław Krasnodębski, who is an observer member of the Conference’s all-powerful executive board, who said, “The European Union needs a deep and open debate on its reform. The pandemic has shown how unprepared we are while facing existential threats.”
“The Conference is an opportunity for everyone to contribute to the European debate. I strongly encourage everyone to use the dedicated digital platform, which allows citizens to share their opinions and participate in the events.”
"Many citizens want a stronger, united and assertive EU foreign policy. I hope that this conference will bring new food for thought on the EU's role in international affairs in the 21st century" David McAllister MEP
He explained, “The Conference will gather the citizens’ recommendations. They will provide a valuable advice, but will not replace the principles of representative democracy nor the procedures provided by the treaties. My role as an observer in the Executive Board of the Conference consists of watching over transparency of the procedures and pluralistic selection of participants.”
Further comment comes from the Parliament’s Renew Europe Group leader Dacian Cioloş who said, "The Conference is a priority for our group. We have fought hard for it. Europeans will be able to speak up and say what kind of Europe they want. We invite them all to take an active part in this unprecedented democratic exercise. We wanted this great debate, we have obtained it and we will make sure that the voice of the citizens is heard.”
"The Conference is a unique exercise in continental participative democracy. All of Europe’s problems will be put on the table. All solutions will be envisaged. It’ll be a Conference with the citizens and without taboos".
"Recent events show us that Europe needs reforms. For example, the EU was able to respond urgently to the challenge of the pandemic, but we must now learn the lessons of this health crisis.”
“The Conference is a great opportunity to reflect on the new tools Europe needs to deal with crises. Another example is Europe's role as a geopolitical player. If we want to be credible on the international scene, we must speak with one voice. This is the time to make proposals."
French MEP Manon Aubry, co leader of the Parliament’s left-wing GUE/NGL Group, commented, "The role and composition of the assembly for the Conference is still unclear. It's taken a year to get this far and it underlines the difficulties and limits of this framework in providing the profound changes that the EU requires."
"The Conference is a unique exercise in continental participative democracy. All of Europe’s problems will be put on the table. All solutions will be envisaged. It’ll be a Conference with the citizens and without taboos" Dacian Cioloş MEP
"What we really need is the broad involvement of citizens, which will lead to clearer rules and new EU treaties as they have thus far failed to address the climate and social crisis."
Also speaking to this site, the Socialist S&D Group’s Gaby Bischoff, co-chair of the S&D taskforce on the Conference and vice chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, said, "Too many people associate the EU with constant crisis politics. The Conference offers a chance to leave crisis mode behind and set a positive course for a more democratic and social EU that is able to act.”
“Citizens need to be at the heart of this initiative. For social democrats, it is important the Conference is an open exchange with citizens. It is crucial that, unlike previous initiatives, citizens' proposals do not end up at the back of the drawer, but are actually taken into account by decision-makers. To build a more democratic and effective EU, we need to overcome the distance between the EU and its citizens."
Elsewhere, former UK Europe minister Denis MacShane said, “Europe needs to do more and talk less. Britain's Richard Corbett will take part but and it is never a bad thing to bring people together and exchange idea but the problems Europe face are due to lack of decisions not a lack of conferences.”
Former Liberal MEP, Sir Graham Watson said, “Our world stumbles from one difficulty to another and atavistic human reflexes favour conflict. The need for a European polity becomes ever greater. This Conference must focus on how to win public support for the construction of a united Europe.”
“The Conference on the Future of Europe is happening at the right time, with many challenges to the EU, both internal from anti-democratic forces and climate change and external from increasingly aggressive dictatorships like China and Russia” former MEP Edward McMillan-Scott
Another former MEP, Edward McMillan-Scott, said, “The Conference on the Future of Europe is happening at the right time, with many challenges to the EU, both internal from anti-democratic forces and climate change and external from increasingly aggressive dictatorships like China and Russia.”
“Sadly, unlike the previous Convention, this important Conference will not have the benefit of experienced Britons like Lord John Kerr, who was Giscard d'Estaing's right hand man and later head of the Foreign Office, or Lord Alexander Stockton, grandson of UK premier Harold Macmillan, whose international and political experience was invaluable, "said the former Liberal MEP and parliament vice president.
Former Labour MP Roger Casale, of New Europeans, a civil society group, said, "Europeans want to have their say not just at election time but also between elections.”
But Giles Merritt, founder of the respected think tank, Friends of Europe, is less confident about the prospects of meaningful EU reform, saying, “The conference is saddled with three co chairs and is doomed from the start.”