REPORT: Conference on the Future of Europe. The citizens have spoken. Can the EU answer?

Our new report from Dods EU Political Intelligence breaks down what happened and what's next
Conference on the future of Europe in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photo: Alamy

By Matej Banovec

Matej Banovec is a consultant for Dods EU Political Intelligence.

09 Jun 2022

Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes. The European Union’s laudable drive to enable European citizens to have a say in what the bloc should do and play a greater role in shaping its future has culminated in a substantial wish list, some of which could prove very difficult to deliver.

To mark Europe Day on 9 May, the EU unveiled the final Conference on the Future of Europe report at a glitzy event in Strasbourg attended by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron. The 336-page document is the product of a year-long process of engagement to collect the views of people across the 28-nation bloc. It contains 49 so-called plenary proposals for the future of Europe spanning nine topics, ranging from the economy to climate change, and more than 300 concrete measures.

However, while the EU can reasonably claim that Europe has spoken – despite launching a year late due to Covid –this is only half the exercise. For the process to be worthwhile, the EU’s institutions will need to act on the recommendations, some of which have already proven divisive and triggered resistance from European governments. If they fail to do that, the EU could face accusations that the Conference on the Future of Europe was simply a talking shop, or worse still, that the bloc is unable or unwilling to address people’s concerns and satisfy their ambitions.

One of the most controversial recommendations in the report is a call for the EU to remove the principle of unanimity in its decision-making process so it can act more quickly in areas such as foreign and security policy, a move that would involve changing the EU’s treaties. The Covid crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have shown the importance of speedy decision-making. Von der Leyen signaled her support in a tweet on the day the report was launched saying, “I have always argued that unanimity voting in some key areas no longer makes sense, if we want to move faster,” adding that Europe should play a greater role in health or defense. However, 13 member states – including Sweden and Poland – have pushed back against launching a process towards treaty change.

The clock is ticking on the EU’s institutions to follow-up on the Conference on the Future of Europe report ahead of a so-called feedback event to update European citizens on progress in the autumn. This Dods EU Political Intelligence report sets out the origins and process of the Conference on the Future of Europe, examines some of the key recommendations in the final report, and explores possible next steps. 

Download and read the full report from Dods Political Intelligence here.

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