Civil society organisations across Europe have announced plans for a pan-European “festival of democracy” to run in parallel with the Future of Europe conference.
Due to start in May and last up to two years, the conference will focus on how citizens should be more closely involved in the EU decision-making process, while the festival aims to “harness the energy, imagination and ideas” of citizens to support this initiative.
With support from a range of civil society groups, including ALDA Europe (the Association for Local Democracy in Europe), the European Future Forum, Volonteurope, GlobalNet21 and BETA, a Europe-wide student network, the initiative aims to fill the “spaces in-between” the formal consultation events taking place as part of the official conference.
Some 47 civil society organisations met in Milan, including the Italian European Movement, and signed a declaration supporting the Europe Future Fringe initiative. The organisers say they were inspired by the world-famous Edinburgh fringe festival.
In the meantime, decisions about the official Future of Europe Conference itself have been postponed while the European Parliament, Commission and Council continue discussions about who will take charge of what was originally billed as a “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” process.
"Citizens will switch off very quickly if they think the Future of Europe conference is all about politics and not about them. That's why we need to kick start the conversation about the future of Europe now" Roger Casale, CEO of New Europeans
Roger Casale, Secretary General and CEO of the campaign group New Europeans, said, “Citizens will switch off very quickly if they think the Future of Europe conference is all about politics and not about them. That's why we need to kick start the conversation about the future of Europe now.”
Piotr Sadowski, General Secretary of Volonteurope, an association representing over 100 voluntary organisations in Europe and one of the organisers of the “fringe”, said, “One of the great things about the Europe Future Fringe is that we can reach out to people outside the borders of the EU and involve them in the future of Europe debate, for example in the UK, Ukraine, and the Balkans. That is vitally important - Europe is a community of values not simply a set of institutions in Brussels.”
Dominik Kirchdorfer, President of the European Future Forum, which is setting up the website for the fringe, commented, “We want to bring people and organisations together so they can share ideas and new perspectives and have their say in the future of Europe debate. The Europe Future Fringe will give us the opportunity to do just that.”
In December, the Financial Times described the Future of Europe conference as French President Emmanuel Macron’s “latest wheeze to revive European democracy”.
"We need to clearly transmit the message that Europe is not Brussels" Dacian Cioloș (RO, RE)
The idea is to bring policymaking closer to voters through a series of “bottom up” initiatives such as citizens’ and youth assemblies and online consultations.
Commenting on the conference plans, Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș, a Romanian MEP, said “We need to clearly transmit the message that Europe is not Brussels.”
However, so far, the main debate about the conference has been about who is going to chair the initiative, an issue that remains unresolved.
Despite the current internal wrangling, S&D group leader, Iratxe García Pérez, said, “The Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique opportunity to make sure the EU is fit to face the future. We are not here to build a market, but a community.”
"We need to find a new shared vision for the future of the European project and define together the reforms needed to strengthen our Union" David Sassoli, Parliament President (IT, S&D)
Meanwhile, Parliament’s president David Sassoli noted, “The limits of the current model of EU governance have been made evident by the crises that have hit Europe over the past decade.”
The Italian added, “We need to find a new shared vision for the future of the European project and define together the reforms needed to strengthen our Union.”
“We must be able to act better in the interest of Europeans, we must boost the EU’s democratic legitimacy, its transparency and effectiveness, and ensure wide participation from civil society and citizens in this debate.”