Major step forward for Conference on Future of Europe after Parliament approves joint declaration

The long-delayed forum, due to generate ideas for reforming the EU, should have started last May but has been delayed due to inter-institutional wrangling and the Coronavirus crisis.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 Mar 2021

On Thursday, Parliament’s political group leaders approved the joint declaration, which is seen as the “foundation” for the Conference.

Contrary to initial expectations, the Conference will now be chaired by the leaders of the three European institutions – the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The Conference will last one year and is expected to finally start on 9 May.

After the meeting, the Conference of Presidents issued a statement which said they had endorsed the joint declaration “because we want the Conference to start its work as soon as possible.”

It adds, “The Conference will contribute significantly to building a citizen’s Union.”

They expect Parliament to play a “leading and prominent role” in the work and in the practical organisation of the forum.

The announcement was welcomed by civil society, which has been at the forefront of launching the conference, originally the idea of Emmanuel Macron, the French President.

Bent Bonde, Secretary General of Europe’s People’s Forum (EPF), told this website, “We very much welcome this. We note with pleasure that many of our recommendations to the three institutions have been reflected in the overall methodology.”

“We believe that the Conference on the Future of Europe will be the first step of engaging citizens in European policymaking between the elections”

Roger Casale, New Europeans

“Particularly we are pleased that the quality of the policy proposals developed by the citizens through careful deliberation in the European thematic agora will have a possibility to build on also national level deliberations and online inputs.”

“The time for the Conference is limited to one year. This makes it very important that the agenda for the Conference can be decided very quickly through citizens’ online priorities.”

The Copenhagen-based Bonde said, “It also makes it very important to compensate the limited time by closely linking the deliberative processes in the national panels with the processes in the European thematic agora deliberations.”

“Both levels are demographically, and socioeconomically representative and thematic and random selection of participants and development of policy recommendations can benefit from each other.”

“By linking the online, the national and the European agoras together, proposals are prioritised online, further considered at national level and with a very focused discussion on detailing the proposals at the European level.”

Further comment came from Roger Casale, of New Europeans, a leading citizens’ rights group, and acting president of the EPF, which represents more than 60 civil society organisations.

Casale, a former UK Labour MP, who has also championed the Conference from the start, said, “We will be ready to help making the best possible use of the time available for the Conference.”

“We believe that the Conference on the Future of Europe will be the first step of engaging citizens in European policy making between the elections.”

“We very much welcome this. We note with pleasure that many of our recommendations to the three institutions have been reflected in the overall methodology” Bent Bonde, Secretary General of Europe’s People’s Forum

An executive committee with 3 representatives and 4 observers from each of the three institutions will be responsible for the management of the Conference and will help ensure that its recommendations are implemented.

The Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee will also be observers to help ensure that all citizens locally will engage in the process.

Commenting further, Bonde said, “There will be local debates and events organized by civil society organisations, social partners and local/national authorities in all 27 Member States.”

“These events will encourage citizens to use the multilingual online platform and, for example, vote on the agenda for the Conference and prioritise their key challenges. It is a key to reach all groups of citizens whether they live in the countryside, are poor, rich, old or young.”

“In all 27 Member States representative panels of citizens will in detail discuss and get closer to what kind of policies to consider to solve the different thematic policy challenges.”

Bonde added, “At the European level and across different Member States there will be thematic European agoras in which citizens will discuss in very detail and finalise with the policy recommendations.”

“The European agoras will also present and discuss their policy recommendations with the so-called plenary of the Conference, which meets two or three times in the period.”

“The plenary of the Conference that lasts one year, will include a significant number of MEPs, officials from the Commission, from the Council and from national and local parliaments as well as EESC and CoR.”

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