Senior MEP warns of danger that CoFoE could degenerate into ‘mere talking shop’

After a year-long delay caused by the health crisis, the much-vaunted Conference on the Future of Europe finally launched on Sunday. It will last 12 months and aims to pave the way for major reform of the bloc.
European Parliament

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

11 May 2021

The start of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) was also delayed due to inter-institutional wrangling about the mandate and format for the Conference, an initiative initially championed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

As late as last week, representatives from the institutions disagreed on the role citizens should have on the Conference.

German deputy Martin Schirdewan, co-leader of The Left group in Parliament, has criticised the latest inter-institutional squabbling as “further evidence for why a citizens-led EU reform is so badly needed.”

But he said, “The Conference is threatening to degenerate into a mere talking shop.”

He added, “The EU institutions have been arguing for over a year about what it should be and is allowed to do. What falls by the wayside is the actual goal of the Conference; namely to give citizens, trade unions, social movements and NGOs a voice in our democracy. So far, the only thing that we can agree on is the start date. The rest though has ended up looking more like a tragedy.”

“The Conference is threatening to degenerate into a mere talking shop. The EU institutions have been arguing for over a year about what it should be and is allowed to do. What falls by the wayside is the actual goal of the conference; namely to give citizens, trade unions, social movements and NGOs a voice in our democracy” Martin Schirdewan, co-leader, The Left

Fellow co-leader Manon Aubry, a French member, said, “The process of defining the role and composition of the assembly for the Conference has taken too long and has underlined the difficulties and limits of the proposed framework in providing the profound changes that the EU requires.”

“What we really need is the broad involvement of citizens, which will lead to a clear change of rules and new EU treaties which have failed to address the climate and social crisis.”

Elsewhere, other MEPs have questioned the financing of the Conference and the potential consequences for Parliament’s budget.

The actual cost of the Conference is not known and Romanian ECR MEP Cristian Terheș and Swedish ECR deputy Charlie Weimers both said there is a lack of transparency about the Conference costs, adding that here are question marks about how funding set aside for the Conference from the EU budget will be spent.

Terheș said, “Guy Verhofstadt, the co-chair of the Executive Board of the Conference, and the majority of MEPs have long lectured Poland and Hungary on rule of law, or Romania and Bulgaria on how to properly fight corruption but they all voted against transparency so the European people would not know how the money for this Conference is spent.”

“The process of defining the role and composition of the assembly for the Conference has taken too long … What we really need is the broad involvement of citizens, which will lead to a clear change of rules and new EU treaties which have failed to address the climate and social crisis”

Manon Aubry, co-leader, The Left

Even some traditionally seen as Europhiles have questioned the Conference, with Giles Merritt, founder of Friends of Europe, asking, “Is the European Union still fit for purpose, or is it floundering in the face of both urgent crises and long-term threats?”

He said, “The Conference launched in Strasbourg on Sunday is doomed from the start. Aiming to define a reform strategy for the European Union, it is saddled with three co-chairs, representing the Commission, Parliament and Council. This will inevitably mean deadlock on all but the most anodyne questions.”

But Parliament’s President David Sassoli made a strong defence of the Conference, saying, “For the Parliament, it is undeniable that the Conference must reach the end of this exercise with concrete proposals, based on the recommendations of citizens and on the debates of the Plenary Assembly, and above all that they are followed by actions by all the institutions involved, each at the own level of power.”

This vision of our European project will be the compass that must guide our work in the decade to come. That is why the European Parliament is taking this Conference very seriously.”

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New EU regulations on AI seek to ban mass and indiscriminate surveillance

Share this page