The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), which concludes in about 12 months, is a joint undertaking by the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission and aims to pave the way for reform of the EU.
At the opening session, speeches by Parliament’s 108-strong delegation set out a broad array of priorities. Most MEPs spoke about the Conference’s potential for reform, with many putting forward proposals for treaty change.
But some asked if the Conference was going in the right direction while others considered it too ambitious. Others said, though, that it is not ambitious enough.
Parliament’s co-chair of the all-powerful Conference Executive Board, Belgian Renew Europe deputy Guy Verhofstadt, said he sees the Conference as a “relay race.”
He told the plenary, “Citizens participating in panels will start it by defining their wishes and recommendations. Then, over several plenary sessions, they will hand over the baton and we will formulate concrete proposals for reform based on their recommendations.”
“The final stage of this race is to approve and implement these reforms through our democratic institutions.”
“Accountability and transparency are of the utmost importance. There must be a feedback mechanism to ensure that the ideas expressed during the Conference events result in concrete recommendations for EU action”
Christa Schweng, EESC President
The Executive Board is the body responsible for taking the decisions on the work of the Conference. Portuguese Secretary of State for EU Affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias and Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, are the two other co-chairs.
There was consensus that the EU needs to change, with EPP leader Manfred Weber saying, “We need to discuss how to make Europe structurally fit for purpose.”
The German member added, “I doubt whether our foreign policy, for example, is strong enough to meet this challenge. There is [also] the question of identity - diversity is potentially toxic if we use it against one another. The continent’s Christian nature is also important to me, and how we can shape Europe democratically.”
Further contribution came from Socialist leader Iratxe García Pérez, who issued a stark warning to the Conference, saying, “If the Union cannot solve citizens’ problems, it has no reason to exist.”
French Renew Europe deputy Pascal Durand said it was “time to move away from vetoes and unanimity rules”, while ID member Hélène Laporte, also from France, said, “Our citizens believe that our Union is not very democratic. So the members of the panels must be selected fairly, representing political plurality, and their ideas must be accepted.”
She added, “The issue of immigration should not be avoided.”
“Citizens participating in panels will start it by defining their wishes and recommendations. Then, over several plenary sessions, they will hand over the baton and we will formulate concrete proposals for reform based on their recommendations” Guy Verhofstadt, Renew Europe
Polish ECR deputy Zdzisław Krasnodębski noted, “The idea is to take a further step, to unify the Member States, centralise some policies and take decisions together. We need treaty reform, but if the Council is already against it, what is the point of having this conversation?”
Another French member, The Left’s Manon Aubry said, “With Next Generation EU, we showed courage but it is not yet enough.”
Elsewhere, Christa Schweng, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, said that the involvement of organised civil society and the EESC is “crucial in ensuring the broad participation of citizens.”
Schweng, who took part in the plenary along with a delegation of 18 EESC members, said, “Ensuring the Conference will bring tangible results and improvements is a must in order to not fuel Euroscepticism.”
“That is why accountability and transparency are of the utmost importance. There must be a feedback mechanism to ensure that the ideas expressed during the Conference events result in concrete recommendations for EU action.”
“We should develop an online dashboard allowing citizens to see the follow-up measures resulting from the Conference, their timeline and their implementation status. If proposals made during the Conference are not followed up on, this requires a clear and transparent explanation.”