European Parliament asks former UK MEP to join Conference on Future of Europe common secretariat

The peculiarity - and irony - of a former UK politician being asked to join the forum tasked with shaping the long-term future of the EU will not be lost on those involved in the Brexit negotiations.
Richard Corbett: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

02 Apr 2021

Richard Corbett, a veteran of the European Parliament, served as the final leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, from 2017 to 2020. He is also a former close aide to Herman Van Rompuy, a former Council President.

Corbett was an MEP from 1996 to 2009 and, after losing his seat, again from 2014 to 2020.

As a secretariat member, Corbett cannot speak publicly on his role with the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) but told this website, “I am honoured to be asked to do this.”

The Conference presidents are the three presidents of the Commission, Council and Parliament - Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and David Sassoli. Given the posts they currently have, their role, though, will be largely symbolic.

Below the three presidents is an Executive Board with three representatives from each of the EU’s three main institutions, plus observers.

But the Executive Board is also largely composed of people who have other busy jobs: the current and next two Council presidencies (Portugal, Slovenia and France) who are full-time government ministers, two of Parliament’s political group leaders - Manfred Weber and Iratxe García Pérez - plus former ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt and three EU commissioners.

The next level - the common secretariat - will, therefore, become more important in practice.

“The common secretariat will be a political nerve centre of the operation … It is highly curious that they chose a Brit. It could be because Richard Corbett was involved in previous episodes of EU reflection on its future”

Source close to the CoFoE

This comprises six people nominated by each of the three main EU institutions. The common secretariat is described as a political secretariat, as it will not actually look after the Conference organisational affairs such as meetings and translations.

Such tasks will be delegated to the institutions, for example, the Parliament, to organise the plenary sessions of the Conference and the Commission to run the interactive website.

A source close to the Conference told this website, “The common secretariat will be a political nerve centre of the operation.”

He added, “It is highly curious that they chose a Brit. It could be because Richard Corbett was involved in previous episodes of EU reflection on its future.”

He points out that this involved Corbett working with Altiero Spinelli when he was young, to drafting (with another former UK Labour MEP, David Martin) Parliament's input into the Maastricht negotiations.

Corbett made the first draft of what became the co-decision procedure. He was also involved in the negotiations which led to the Amsterdam Treaty and was Parliament's rapporteur on the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty.

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