The conference on the Future of Europe, which officially started on Saturday, is expected to last around a year, was badly delayed by both EU inter-institutional wrangling and the COVID health pandemic.
But the forum, which is supposed to pave the way for major reform of the EU, was officially launched, with its first plenary session, in Strasbourg at the weekend.
About half of its 800 participants were physically present in Strasbourg with the rest connecting online remotely.
The Greens/EFA group in parliament, among the most ardent supporters of the conference, held a press briefing to mark the launch.
The conference governance has been criticised by several people, among others, Renew Europe MEP Guy Verhofstadt, himself a leading member of the forum.
There are four citizens’ panels, each made up of 200 people who have been randomly selected. Each will focus on a distinct topic, for example, climate action and health, and they will meet over three separate weekends, the first being in mid September. Proposals can also be left on an online platform.
Citizens will take their reform proposals to the plenary in December and January and, based on these proposals, the plenary, which includes just over 100 MEPs, will decide on its recommendations.
“It would be good now if there was a concrete signal sent from the EU institutions and the Member States that they too are taking this initiative seriously. But how seriously member state governments are taking this exercise is a question for them” Greens/EFA Group MEP Daniel Freund
These should be finalised by March or April 2022 but additional time may be needed due to the delay caused by the crisis.
In reply to a question from this site about the conference set up, Greens member Daniel Freund said, “No one can be fully satisfied with this (the governance) but you have to remember that it is a compromise.”
“There is no secret that it was the European parliament that has pushed a lot for this conference to happen and Member States have been reluctant and even been blocking it from the outset.”
“No less than 12 governments in Europe have said that the conference should not lead to any significant change and that there should be no treaty changes. This is bad message to be sending out to citizens but this is something that we have had to deal with from the outset.”
He admitted, “I am not sure that the proposals from citizens will actually be translated into concrete changes but I can tell you that the European parliament is taking this conference very seriously and will seek to ensure that the citizens’ proposals are transferred into laws, amendments to draft legislation and, yes, to treaty change.
“It would be good now if there was a concrete signal sent from the EU institutions and the Member States that they too are taking this initiative seriously. But how seriously member state governments are taking this exercise is a question for them.”
Speaking at an online press conference, he noted that the last attempt at major EU reform, the ‘European convention’ 20 years ago, had just one Greens member compared to the current setup which has “many more” including Greens government ministers.
He said, “The Greens want this conference to achieve tangible results including an EU fund to finance the transition to a sustainable economy and to make Europe climate neutral.”
“We want it to recommend abolishing unanimity voting in council which is the main thing that holds the EU back and makes it incapable of taking joint decisions.”
“It means that a single veto can call the shot, for example, on the EU’s rule of law and tax policies. But this seriously reduces the EU’s capacity to act.”
He added, “A third thing we want is reform in how European elections work because currently these are still too much as series of national elections that just happen to be held in the same week.”
“Instead, we need genuine European elections in which citizens are able to vote and decide on the top positions in EU such as the commission president.”
He said, “This Saturday was the first plenary which comes after a long delay caused by the health crisis. The European Parliament has been very eager to get this going and this is the first time most of the component parts of the conference came together. This was the first exchange on where we want this forum to go.”
“I am confident that the citizen panels and the participation of ordinary citizens will reflect what the public want. The Greens have been at the forefront of pushing for the conference and also to put citizens centre stage of the whole thing.”