Fresh efforts to salvage this weekend’s Conference on the Future of Europe launch

Chance of Sunday’s launch going ahead believed to be ‘no more than 50:50’.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

07 May 2021

A fresh effort will be made on Friday to salvage this weekend’s launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The launch was timed to coincide with Europe Day, 9 May, a date which is traditionally of great significance for the EU.

The conference aims to breathe new life into the European Project but has been beset by problems, including a one year delay caused by the pandemic.

Friday’s talks aim to resolve the latest hitch - disagreement between the EU institutions on the conference format.

Discord between the various negotiators was so bad on Thursday that one Greens/EFA Group MEP gave the chance of Sunday’s launch going ahead at “no more than 50:50.”

No less than four political groups, the EPP, S&D, Greens/EFA and Renew  Europe, are taking a tough line and have warned that unless "satisfactory rules" are agreed for the conference beforehand they will demand that its launch on Sunday is cancelled.

If that happens, it would be a huge blow to the credibility of an initiative that many have already questioned.

"The Conference on the Future of Europe is a priority for our Renew Europe Group. We have fought hard for it. Europeans will be able to speak up and say what kind of Europe they want” Renew Europe Group leader Dacian Cioloș

It is believed that the European Commission and Council want the conference plenary to have no decision-taking role which would relegate the plenary to a mere forum for debate.

All the power would be in the hands of the nine full members of the Executive Board, each of whom has a veto, meaning that the Council could veto any conference conclusion before it is published.

On Friday, a well placed conference source told this website “Talks are continuing this morning. It looks as though the launch will probably be ok.

“National parliaments are backing the European parliament’s line so their governments are under pressure from all sides.”

The conference should have started a year ago but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is supposed to pave the way for major reform of the EU but the build up to the EU’s attempt to change has been marked by inter-institutional wrangling over various issues including the conference format, leadership and mandate.

The conference, which aims to have civil society at its heart, is due to last one year. It was initially the idea of French President Emmanuel Macron who is due to deliver a keynote speech at the launch in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

A draft programme for the launch, seen by this website, confirms that Macron is due to speak at 2pm on Sunday but his presence is yet to be confirmed by Paris.

“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” Renew Europe Group leader Dacian Cioloș

The programme states that the launch is “key to creating momentum” for the conference and in  “enhancing its legitimacy in the eyes of the media and citizens.”

This, it adds, should “send a clear indication of what the conference is, what purpose it serves and what is yet to come.”

The draft says the opening “despite the gravitas of the event” should aim to “open and informal” and “of interest to a younger audience.”

The proceedings will, it says, take place in what it a “hybrid format”, although it is known that participants are due to attend the launch in person.

On Friday, Renew Europe Group leader Dacian Cioloș said he hopes it goes ahead as planned.

He told The Parliament Magazine, "The Conference on the Future of Europe is a priority for our Renew Europe 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”.

Cioloș added, “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”.

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