Senior MEP urges Member States to ensure that delayed Conference on Future of Europe starts in September

Mairead McGuinness, a Vice-President of Parliament, wants the Council to draw up its position on the planned conference “as soon as possible.”
European Commission Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

28 Jul 2020

With the focus on the Coronavirus pandemic, the Conference, for many, disappeared from the EU political radar in recent months.

But pressure is now growing on Member States to finalise the mandate for the Conference, which is set to be organised by Parliament, Council and the Commission.

McGuiness said, “For me, as soon as possible means now.”

“The Parliament decided its position in January, as did the Commission – what is taking the Council so long? Inter-institutional negotiations need to start so that we can kick off the Conference in September.”

She added, “With the COVID-19 crisis, it's more urgent than ever.”

Fabian Zuleeg, CEO of the European Policy Centre (EPC), a Brussels-based think tank, supports the idea of a conference to look at possible wide-ranging reforms of the EU.

“The Parliament decided its position in January, as did the Commission – what is taking the Council so long? Inter-institutional negotiations need to start so that we can kick off the Conference in September” Mairead McGuinness MEP

He said, “The Conference on the Future of Europe will be a major focus of analysis and a forum for more long-term thinking about the European Union's future role.”

The EPC, he says, also hopes to play a role, adding, “We will undertake a thorough process of reflection with our foundation partners and other think tanks across Europe on Europe's future, including on the role of philanthropy.”

Speaking recently, Council President Charles Michel said he wants the public to be “at the heart of the Conference,” adding that he hopes it will start soon and “involve citizens from right across the Union.”

Lorenzo Mineo, campaign coordinator at Eumans, the movement of European citizens for Democracy and Sustainable Development, and Marta Cillero Manzano, of European Alternatives, a citizens’ movement for democracy and equality, describe the conference as “historic” and have proposed several ideas for it.

They say citizens must have a say in the EU’s €750bn Recovery Fund and also call for a “clear” system for the selection of citizens and changing the EU’s traditional top-down structures.

The forum, expected to last up to two years, should have been launched on Schuman Day - May 9 - but has been delayed due to Member State wrangling over its remit and mandate as well as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

“The Conference on the Future of Europe will be a major focus of analysis and a forum for more long-term thinking about the European Union's future role” Fabian Zuleeg, European Policy Centre

No decision has been taken yet on who should chair the conference although Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt has been touted as a leading candidate.

The aim is supposedly to inject fresh momentum in efforts to reform the EU, not least with the bloc losing the UK, one of its biggest members.

In a resolution adopted last month, Parliament said that “10 years after the Lisbon treaty, 70 years after the Schuman Declaration and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time is ripe for a reappraisal of the Union.”

It adds that “the number of significant crises that the Union has undergone demonstrates that institutional and political reforms are needed in multiple governance areas.”

Parliament says it wants citizens of all backgrounds, civil society representatives and stakeholders at European, national, regional and local level to be involved.

Citizens themselves, says Parliament, should be able to establish the “scope” of the Conference. It also calls for a “meaningful follow-up” to the Conference's conclusions, potentially including a review of the EU treaties.

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