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ISSUE Nº 7
"We will make sure that young people can help lead the debate in the Conference on the Future Of Europe. This is their future and this must be their Conference too."
- Ursula Von Der Leyen, SOTEU 2021
The Conference on the Future of Europe is now officially underway, the first European citizen’s panel sessions are due to start this weekend.
1. CITIZENS’ PANELS
By the end of the year, the panels will formulate recommendations, which will be discussed at a plenary that brings together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments as well as other stakeholders. The recommendations will feed into a final report, which will be prepared in spring 2022 by the executive board of the Conference, comprised of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The European Citizens’ Panels are a central feature of the Conference organised by the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission based on their Joint Declaration. The first sessions of all four Panels will take place on Parliament’s premises in Strasbourg and begin working on draft recommendations within each Panel’s remit. This first European Citizens’ Panel will focus on a stronger economy, social justice, jobs/education, youth, culture, and sport/digital transformation, based on citizens’ contributions collected from across Europe on the Multilingual Digital Platform, as well as support and presentations from prominent academics.
Watch the plenary meetings of the European Citizens’ Panels live!
2. STATE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION 2021
In her State of the Union Speech, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, takes stock of the European policies of the past year and sets out the priorities for work in 2022.
After one of the toughest years in its history, Europe needs to look towards the future with renewed hope. In the coming months, the European Commission will therefore focus on the following priorities:
- Continuing the vaccination efforts in Europe and speeding up vaccination globally, as well as strengthening the pandemic preparedness.
- Working on closing the climate finance gap, together with our global partners.
- Leading the digital transformation that will create jobs and drive competitiveness, while ensuring technical excellence and security of supply.
- Ensuring fairer working conditions and better healthcare, and creating more opportunities for Europe’s youth to benefit from the European social market economy.
- Stepping up our cooperation on security and defence, and deepening EU’s partnership with closest allies.
- Defending European values and freedoms, and protecting the rule of law.
Von der Leyen proclaimed she would make 2022 the ’Year of European Youth‘, with young people being encouraged to contribute to the debate in the consultations of the Conference on the Future of Europe as this is “their future and this must be their Conference too“.
“Our Union needs a soul and a vision they can connect to. Or as Jacques Delors asked: How can we ever build Europe if young people do not see it as a collective project and a vision of their own future?,“ Von der Leyen asked.
Responding to EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, Von der Leyen promised to “give a follow up” on the conference’s conclusions.
In our SOTEU Livestream with views and visions of the European Federalists, UEF President and MEP Sandro GOZI and UEF Austria President and MEP Lukas MANDL welcomed the assessment made by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: the attention to young people, first of all, because the European project is primarily about securing their future; the attention to security, in all its aspects, social, health, geopolitical. Then, the reference to the greatest merit in the past year, which is undoubtedly in the area of combating the economic consequences of the pandemic with the multi-billion financial package, the recovery fund. And, as the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan shows, the proposal for the European Union to initiate the development of a true European Defence Union and to set up quickly an autonomous rapid reaction force. However, as European Federalists, we need also to stress the need of deepening European integration. The past year’s crisis made very visible the need for a more united Europe. Hence, we can’t miss the opportunity to make the Conference on the Future of Europe a true forum with citizens to work together to achieve a more sovereign and democratic Europe.
Find here the State of the Union 2021 - President von der Leyen's speech.
3. EUROBAROMETER ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE
Attitudes towards the EU remain positive and broadly stable, according to the latest Standard Eurobarometer conducted in June-July 2021.
Optimism about the future of the EU has increased sharply since summer 2020, with two-thirds of respondents now holding a positive view (66%, +6 percentage points). This is the highest level since autumn 2009. Just over three in ten respondents are pessimistic about the EU's future (31%, -7) - the lowest level since 2009.
A clear majority is optimistic about the future of the EU in 26 Member States, while public opinion remains split in Greece. Optimism has increased in 22 countries since summer 2020, with very large increases in Malta (75%, +25), Italy (67%, +18) and Portugal (76%, +15). As a result of these changes, optimism is now the majority opinion in Italy (67%) and France (53%).
4. SLOVENIA PRESIDENCY ON THE CoFoE
According Slovenia’s State Secretary Gašper Dovžan, after the successive crises over two decades, a core issue for the Conference on the Future of Europe should be how to ensure the resilience of the EU and put policies in favour of European citizens first. This would include exploring how current shortcomings could be improved by establishing cooperation mechanisms or discussing what passerelles could be used, like abandoning qualified majority voting for quicker and faster decisions.
However, according to him, it would not be necessary to primarily talk about treaty change as there is more or less unanimity among member states to ensure that we debate policies and that we see how we could improve the functioning of the EU.
The Presidency main goal is to be inclusive and to have full transparency when it comes to member states wishes and that we are adequately representing the aggregate of views present in the Council and there is the need to put policies in favour of citizens first.
5.YOUTH AND THE FUTURE OF EUROPE
The European Youth Event (YE2021) offers a new experience for young people from all over Europe and beyond. Alongside in-person activities, this edition will feature exciting online activities on the dedicated EYE2021 platform under the tagline “The future is ours”.
Starting on October 4, EYE2021 will run online activities, leading up to the main event on 8-9 October in Strasbourg, which will feature online and in-person activities as well as new hybrid formats.
From the comfort of their home and from all over Europe, young people will be able to access the EYE2021 platform to watch and interact with online activities using any device available, be it desktop, tablet, or mobile.
The first interim report on the CoFoE digital platform has been published, unveiling the top ideas on the platform. It will be followed by two more reports.
The Conference on the Future of Europe can only lead to tangible results if Germany puts its full weight behind it – and fast. But with the upcoming federal elections and the change in government, there is a risk that Berlin will be too distracted.
The EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe is now underway, with conclusions expected to be reached by spring 2022. Spyros Blavoukos and Alexandros Kyriakidis assess what lessons the conference can learn from the Convention on the Future of Europe, which was launched in 2001 with the aim of drafting a European constitution.
- European Parliament Report: brief report on the main topics MEPs will be dealing with after the summer break, including the CoFoE. MEPs will take active part in the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which aims to come up with concrete proposals for change in the EU based on ideas put forward by citizens. A total of 108 MEPs are members of the Conference Plenary, which will next meet on 22-23 October.
- Policy Brief: The Future of Europe: What Role for Visegrad Cooperation?
Potential of the V4 countries to contribute to the Conference on the Future of Europe in relation to the climate agenda and the involvement of the Western Balkan countries.
This study fills a gap by addressing attitudes towards the European Union's future. The findings show citizens’ fine-grained future European Union preferences, which are meaningfully related to common explanations of European Union support. We also find cross-national differences linked to countries’ structural position within the European Union.
ISSUE Nº 6
There is nothing written about treaty changes in the common declaration and in the rules of procedure is a good thing. And if it is not firmly forbidden, you can do it.
- Guy Verhofstadt
71 years after the Schuman Declaration, the time has come to rethink the future of Europe by giving the floor to its citizens. The next 24 months will be decisive for the future of the Union, individual Member States and citizens, with new challenges, appointments, deadlines, new beginnings and changes at the international level.
1. CITIZENS’ PANELS UPDATE
Selection of citizens
The selection of the 800 citizens (and 200 citizens as a reserve) is currently taking place covering the entirety of the population (limited to EU citizens). Citizens are contacted by phone in several rounds in order to explain the purpose and obtain their consent. If they agree, they will receive a mandate letter explaining exactly what is expected from them and will receive professional support and guidance throughout the process.
In order to ensure diversity, the selection of participants is being done by randomly selecting citizens, with the aim of constituting “panels” representative of EU sociological diversity.
Each European Citizens’ Panel will be composed of 200 citizens. As the Conference aims at allowing a specific focus on youth, one third of the citizens composinga Citizens’ Panel will be between 16 and 25 years old.
Design and methodology
There will be four European Citizens’ Panels and the topics for discussion for each of the Panels, based on the themes of the Multilingual Digital Platform, will be clustered in the following way and order:
- Stronger economy, social justice, jobs/ education, youth, culture, sport/ digital transformation;
- European democracy/values and rights, rule of law, security;
Climate change, environment/health;
- EU in the world/migration;
The Panels shall take on board contributions gathered in the framework of the Conference through the Platform and formulate a set of recommendations for the Union’s institutions to follow-up on and which will be debated in the Conference Plenary.
The European Citizens’ Panels first session which will be divided into two phases:
- Which Europe they would want to see for them and their children in 2050, in relation to the theme of the Panel.
- A phase where the citizens will be asked to cross-examine their work on their vision with the first report from the platform.
Languages, timing and location
The panels shall meet during at least three deliberative sessions of minimum two days. All Panels will take place in the same overall period from autumn 2021 to spring 2022. For logistical reasons, the sessions of all Panels will not take place at the exact same time. They would therefore present their conclusions to different meetings of the Plenary. 2 Panels would present their recommendations to the Conference Plenary in December and 2 in January.
The panels will be in the 24 EU official languages with interpretation and will be live-streamed, while the documents of their discussions and deliberations should be made publicly available on the Multilingual Digital Platform. There will also be a dedicated section for the panels on the Platform, which will be used also for communication and deliberation purposes.
Information material provided to the Citizens prior to the event remain therefore basic and similar to the platform topic pages. The Panels will be accompanied by independent experts and they will introduce the topic and the Co-Chairs will inform in advance the Executive Board of the development of the practical modalities for the organisation of the European Citizens’ Panels.
Panel results and their input into the Conference Plenary
The Panels’ recommendations will be debated in the Conference Plenary meetings, feed into the final Conference report and constitute a part of the Conference output on which basis EU institutions will organise the follow-up. Citizens’ delegations from each Panel (20 representatives) will take part in the Conference Plenary meetings.
The European Citizens’ Panels will lead to a specific analysis/report based on the original citizens’ ideas as expressed during the deliberations. It will contain the final recommendations but also a detailed account of the content of the discussions.
2. SOCIAL PARTNERS AND REGIONAL AND LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES GET GREATER SAY IN THE CoFoE
The executive board of the Conference on the Future of Europe decided to allocate more seats in the Conference Plenary to both regional and local representatives, and social partners Amend the rules of procedure allocate six extra elected representatives of both local and regional authorities in the plenary. The board also agreed to increase the number of social partner representatives by four to a total of 12.
3. THE CoFoE AND THE ERASMUS GENERATION
As the Conference on the Future of Europe starts, Vice-President Schinas called “the Erasmus Generation to do for Europe what Europe did for the Erasmus Generation”. Schinas, who has been involved in consultations with young people, has understood that the future of Europe is closely linked to the growth of the Erasmus+ programme, including outside the EU. Schinas is asking the Erasmus Generation to step up and take ownership of the European project, engaging more actively in the construction of the Europe it wants to live in.
4. INTERESTING LINKS ON THE CoFoE & AROUND THE CoFoE
EURACTIV takes a closer look at the future of federalism within the EU, whether the idea holds relevance in today’s political climate and whether the Conference is likelier to drive or hinder the movement.
UEF President & MEP Sandro GOZI was interviewed on 16 July for EURACTIV, as part of this series, where he claimed for a strong federalist alliance within the CoFoE to booster support for Europe.
This Policy Brief offers some proposals, among the many that could and will be discussed, that could be embraced by European progressives and that may help to make the European Union and its institutions increasingly understandable to European citizens.
5. SUMMER BREAK
The next newsletter on the Conference on the Future of Europe will be released after the summer break.
UEF Secretariat in Brussels will be closed from 31 July to 8 August 2021. We will be back on 9 August 2021. UEF takes this opportunity to wish you all a safe and happy summer!
ISSUE Nº 5
"This is the right time to be politically ambitious and to fight for a sovereign and democratic Europe, capable of shaping a new world order, politically and economically. This will be our commitment in the Conference."
- UEF Secretary General, Anna ECHTERHOFF
1. 1st CITIZEN’S PANEL IN LISBON
The first European citizens' event, also in the framework of the Conference, was held on 17 June 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal, and live streamed online. The panel was composed of 27 representatives from national Citizens' Panels or national events (one per Member State), as well as the President of the European Youth Forum and a number of the citizens already selected for the European-level Citizens' Panels. The event, also organised in hybrid format, gave participants the opportunity to discuss their expectations from the Conference with the three Co-Chairs. These participants also attended the inaugural Plenary in Strasbourg.
You can rewatch the Lisbon Citizen’s Event here.
2. THE INAUGURAL PLENARY
The long awaited Conference on the Future of Europe held its first plenary session in Strasbourg on Saturday 19th June, hoping to succeed in encouraging citizens, who are not yet very involved, to participate in this vast consultation on the future of the European Union.
The agenda included presentations and discussions on the purpose and expectations of the conference, including European citizens' and national panels.
Portugal, the former holder of the EU’s six-month rotating Council presidency, organised the first ‘European Citizens’ Event’ earlier that week.
"This conference is a unique experience," boasted Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt in the hemicycle of the European Parliament. Verhofstadt, coordinator for the European Parliament delegation, explained that citizens would first express their wishes before passing the baton to the plenary, which would formulate "concrete proposals for reform" and then, finally, pass the baton to the EU institutions for their implementation. "We must make this conference work, we must have concrete results at the end," insisted Ana Paula Zacarias, Secretary of State for European Affairs of Portugal.
"What we are trying to do now is to get European citizens to talk together and contribute ideas about the Europe we want to build," she added to an assembly composed mainly of 108 MEPs, 54 Council representatives, three members of the European Commission, 108 representatives of national parliaments and 16 representatives of social partners and civil society.
Speeches by the Parliament’s delegation set out a broad array of priorities. Most MEPs spoke about the Conference’s potential for reform, with many putting forward proposals for treaty change. A few doubted the Conference is going in the right direction - some consider it too ambitious, others say it is not ambitious enough. Nevertheless, virtually all agreed that the EU needs to change in order to respond better to crises and tackle internal and external challenges, and that reaching out to all citizens and shaping their ideas into concrete proposals is a top priority.
In addition to the plenary, the CoFoE will take the form of a multilingual online platform allowing European citizens to share their vision of the future of Europe. But while the participation of citizens in the debate remains the main unknown, the platform, which went live in mid-April, had attracted more than 17,700 participants by the day of the inauguration.
3. CIVIL SOCIETY IN THE PLENARY
The European Movement International has been allocated three seats in the CoFoE Plenary, as part of the eight civil society representatives.
Those three seats will be taken by Yves Bertoncini, Vice-President of the EMI, Petros Fassoulas, Secretary-General of the EMI and Anna Echterhoff, Secretary General of the UEF, as an International Association within the EMI. We strongly believe that being a part of the CoFoE Plenary is a remarkable and deserved milestone in the history of this organisation.
After WW2, the European Movement was created on the basis of unity, peace, and democracy. The Conference on the Future of Europe builds on this and is a unique opportunity to show how the EU delivers and benefits all Europeans, said Mr. Fassoulas.
Mr. Bertoncini reinforced that we must act even more together and reinforce the EU to be able to promote our interests and values at the world level. For this to happen, we must give citizens even more control on the EU’s functioning and decisions, at all levels.
Christa Schweng, President of the European Economic and Social Committee who took part in the plenary along with a delegation of 18 EESC members, said that the involvement of organised civil society and the EESC is “crucial in ensuring the broad participation of citizens.
4. UEF IN THE PLENARY
UEF, as an international association within and one of the founding organisations of EMI, believed in the importance of this Conference right from the start. Since the UEF foundation in 1946, and European Movement in 1948, we have been fighting for a Europe that is politically united. We are convinced that this is the right time to be politically ambitious and to fight for a sovereign and democratic Europe, capable of shaping a new world order, politically and economically. This will be our commitment in the Conference, said our Secretary General, Anna ECHTERHOFF, during the first plenary session of the CoFoE.
UEF is present in the Plenary also with its President Sandro GOZI, MEP, and its Vicepresident, Domènec RUIZ DEVESA, also MEP.
In his intervention Sandro GOZI summarized that we must be ready to respond to citizens' demands with concrete solutions, with political decisions, with new laws, but also with revisions to the Treaties.
On his part, DEVESA stated that we need a developed, ecologic, social and federal Europe. Paraphrasing what was said in the Schuman Declaration, we need creative efforts commensurate with the challenges that we are facing.
As UEF, through the participation of our President, Vice-President and UEF as part of EMI‘s delegation we have a unique opportunity to contribute directly to shaping the future of Europe: Let's build together a democratic and sovereign Europe!
5. ABOLISH THE RIGHT OF VETO & ASSIGN DIRECT POWERS TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The EU should abolish unanimity in its foreign policymaking and not allow itself to be “held hostage”, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Monday 7th June, after several incidents in recent months derailed the bloc’s joint positions on a series of foreign policy matters. “If you do that, then sooner or later you are risking the cohesion of Europe. The veto has to go, even if that means we can be outvoted,” he added.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has repeatedly called for establishing qualified majority voting in EU foreign policy, especially on sanctions.
Most recently, the Netherlands and Spain argued in favour of revamping the rules, saying that “strengthening the EU’s ability to defend its public interests and increasing its open strategic autonomy requires effective decision-making mechanisms”.
Democracy is not compatible with the right of veto. Replacing unanimity with qualified majority decisions is indispensable for the full democratisation of the EU. For a true European democracy, let’s abolish the right of veto and assign direct powers to the European Parliament in taxation and foreign policy! Engage with UEF's proposal in the CoFoE digital platform.
6. MANAGED EXPECTATIONS: VIEWS ON THE CoFoE
This report reveals what individual member states want to achieve with the Conference and their expectations of the potential results. It brings together short contributions from a representative cross-section of EPIN members and distils the essential aspects. It investigates the respective governments’ positions on institutional reform ideas, EU Treaty change, prioritised policy fields, plans for national citizen participation and media coverage, as well as the general current political environment regarding further EU integration.
7. UEF XXVII European Congress – Our Federal Europe, Sovereign and Democratic
During the XXVII European Congress, held in Valencia on the first weekend of July, the UEF organized a political debate on the CoFoE with several guests and distinguished speakers. Among them, Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of the European Commission, and Co-Chair of the Executive Board of the CoFoE, thanked the UEF for raising awareness on the CoFoE and to involve the citizens into its process. She highlighted the importance of this, as the Conference has been conceived for citizens and depends on their inputs. Likewise, she praised the relevance of UEF website informative page in the CoFoE.
8. NEXT STEPS
The European Citizens’ Panels will convene in September and October to prepare their input to future plenary debates, including a set of recommendations for the Union to follow-up on, based on citizens’ contributions collected via the Platform. The Conference is committed to giving maximum space to young people and in this vein, preparations for the European Youth Event organised by the European Parliament on 8-9 October will also continue. The next Plenary session is scheduled for 22-23 October.
9. CoFoE PLAYLIST
Our President and MEP Sandro GOZI, who is also passionate about music, has created a themed playlist on Spotify inspired by this unique participatory exercise. You can listen to Sandro’s CoFoE soundtrack here!
ISSUE Nº 4
"If we draw lessons from the strengths and shortcomings of democratic politics in today’s world, we can find ways to reconnect people to the public interest and reshape the European Union they need for the future."
The CoFoE is underway establishing the composition of the Plenary and the Citizens’ Panels. Which MEPs will be joining the Plenary? What will be debated? On which dates? Here the latest news!
1.The Plenary Composition unveiled
The Conference Plenary will be composed of 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per Member State) and 3 from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, and citizens. 108 citizens will participate to discuss ideas stemming from the Citizens' Panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform, along with the President of the European Youth Forum.
This graphic illustrates what the plenary session of the Conference on the Future of Europe will look like.
Political parties have been gradually revealing which MEPs will attend the Conference. The European Parliament has already decided how many will join for each political group. In this sense, there will be 28 delegates from the European People's Party, 23 from the Socialists and Democrats group, 15 from Renew Europe, 11 delegates from Identity and Democracy, 11 MEPs from the Greens, 9 from ECR, 6 from the Left and 5 from non-attached.
As announced already last week, UEF is honoured and delighted that our President, MEP Sandro GOZI, and our Vice-President, MEP Domènec RUIZ DEVESA, have been elected to represent the European Parliament in the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
2.Inaugural Plenary, 1st Citizens’ event and Calendar of Meetings
The Executive Board approved last week the calendar of Plenary meetings and European Citizens' Panels, with the series of events starting in June.
The inaugural Conference Plenary will take place on 19 June 2021, in Strasbourg, with remote and physical participation, and will include presentations on the European Citizens' Panels and on the Multilingual Digital Platform.
A European citizens' event, will be held on 17 June 2021 in Lisbon, and live streamed online. This will be composed of 27 representatives from national Citizens' Panels or national events (one per Member State), as well as the President of the European Youth Forum and a number of the citizens already selected for the European-level Citizens' Panels. The event, also organised in a blended format, will give participants the opportunity to discuss their expectations from the Conference with the three Co-Chairs. These participants will also attend the inaugural Plenary in Strasbourg.
The Executive Board today also took note of the final practical modalities for the four planned European Citizens' Panels, including the topics allocated to each:
- PANEL 1: Values, rights, rule of law, democracy, security;
- PANEL 2: Climate change, environment/health;
- PANEL 3: Stronger economy, social justice, jobs/education, youth, culture, sport/digital transformation; and
- PANEL 4: EU in the world/migration.
They have also agreed on the official calendar of the Conference. Here are all the dates:
In addition, guidance was prepared to assist Member States and others wishing to organise citizens' panels and other events at national, regional or local level, under the umbrella of the Conference.
3.UEF 1st Political Proposal
UEF has published its first political proposal into the CoFoE digital platform. This time, we are calling for the abolition of the right of veto and we demand an assignment of direct powers to the European Parliament in taxation and foreign policy.
Democracy is not compatible with the right of veto. Replacing unanimity with qualified majority decisions is therefore one of the indispensable reforms for the full democratisation of the European Union.
In the current Treaties in particular, unanimity is still required in two crucial areas: taxation (where the size of the Union budget and the nature and extent of the resources that finance it are decided unanimously by the Council and this decision must then be ratified by all the member states; unanimity is also required for approval of the Multiannual Financial Framework) and foreign and defence policy (where every decision is taken by the Council or the European Council with the unanimous consent of all the states).
In these two areas, the time has come to structurally change the EU's decision-making system and abolish the unanimity rule. This means replacing the current forms of coordination between the national governments (which are the real cause of the existence of the veto right) with a fully democratic European government, accountable to and controlled by the European citizens. For this to happen - in addition to reforming the decision-making system in the Council and the European Council - the European Parliament must be given direct power so that it can assume the role of co-legislator and so that the Union can legislate on these matters through acts directly applicable in the member states.
Check out the UEF’s proposal here. We encourage you to engage and discuss it not only on the platform but also in our upcoming events! Stay tuned!
4.Slovenian EU Council presidency
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, whose country is set to take over the rotating EU Council Presidency, has admitted that the EU needs a “relaunch”. A Slovene presidency priority, he revealed, will be to set up an EU Institute for Constitutional Law to crack down on breaches of the rule of law.
The EU has found itself at loggerheads on this issue with Poland and Hungary, but Mr Janša, did not mention any particular Member States.
On Wednesday, Mr Jansa also stated that the new Conference on the EU’s Future would be an opportunity to breathe new life into the “European Project” and that “it’s important because it fits into the post pandemic phase and the relaunch of our economies.”
5.Civil Society Speaks Up
The launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe marks a turning point in the life of the Union. In this context, many organisations, think tanks and politicians are giving their opinion on how the Conference should be and what’s more important, the final outcome and follow-up of it.
Wojciech Przybylski (Visegrad Insight editor-in-chief and chairman of the Res Publica Foundation in Warsaw) discusses how the CoFoE is vulnerable to being hijacked by governments laundering their policies through friendly NGOs.
Dr Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf (head of international and European governance at the Ecologic Institute) reflects on how can the EU better help member states and their citizens in addressing the big challenges of the future - such as climate change?
To regain people’s trust in democracy, we need to fundamentally revisit the way our democracies work. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a chance to update the way Brussels does politics, Guy Verhofstadt and Dacian Cioloș write.
Dick Roche (former minister of state for European affairs when Ireland conducted the two referendums on the Treaty of Lisbon of the EU) establishes a comparison between the position in which the European Union is today and that in which Ireland found itself in 2001, following the rejection of the Nice Treaty in a referendum.
ISSUE Nº 3
"The Conference is not a panacea or a solution to all problems. We must listen to all voices, whether they are critical or complementary. But I do believe that this Conference is a real opportunity to bring Europeans together and unite around a common ambition for our future, just as previous generations did"
Ursula VON DER LEYEN
The Conference on the Future of Europe has begun. Over the coming year, Europeans are being asked for their input to shape the future of the European Union. Let us build together a stronger, more resilient, more democratic and more united Europe.
After launching the Digital Platform, the interest that citizens have shown has been very reassuring. In its first three weeks, the platform has gathered 7,600 participants, which have published more than 1500 suggestions. So far, they have organised more than 400 events and forums, and the number of people interested in participating is growing every day.
1. Rules of the game
The Conference Executive Board approved on 9 May the Rules of Procedure that set out the composition of the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and how it will work.
The Conference Plenary will be composed of:
- 108 representatives from the European Parliament,
- 54 from the Council (two per Member State) and 3 from the European Commission,
- as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, and citizens.
- 108 Citizens will also participate to discuss citizens' ideas stemming from the citizens' panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform: 80 representatives from the European Citizens’ Panels, of which at least one-third will be younger than 25, and 27 from national Citizens’ Panels or Conference events (one per Member State), as well as the President of the European Youth Forum.
- Some 18 representatives from both the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, and another eight from both social partners and civil society will also take part, while the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will be invited when the international role of the EU is discussed. Representatives of key stakeholders may also be invited. The Conference Plenary will be gender-balanced.
Their exchanges will be structured thematically around recommendations from the Citizens’ Panels and input gathered from the Multilingual Digital Platform. The Platform is the single place where input from all Conference-related events will be collected, analysed and published. In due course, the Plenary will submit its proposals to the Executive Board, who will draw up a report in full collaboration and full transparency with the Plenary, and which will be published on the Multilingual Digital Platform.
The final outcome of the Conference will be presented in a report to the Joint Presidency. The three institutions will examine swiftly how to follow up effectively this report, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties.
2. Official launch of the Conference
On May 9, European Union presidents finally opened the CoFoE in Strasbourg, France, after it was cancelled more than a year ago due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Presidents of the EU institutions delivered speeches on their vision for Europe, following a welcome speech by President Macron, while the Co-Chairs of the Executive Board answered questions posed by citizens from across EU Member States. 27 Erasmus students from across the EU, together with members of the Conference's Executive Board were physically present in the Parliament’s hemicycle, and over 500 citizens attended the event remotely through large TV screens. Ministers for European affairs, Members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, and other VIP guests also joined remotely.
At the opening, EU presidents agreed to draw lessons from the health emergency in order to act more quickly in the face of possible new crises, invest in research and science, and move towards greater integration of the community bloc.
"It would be a defeat to leave this conference without a response to health," said the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, pointing to lessons to be learned more than a year after the world was shocked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Macron, host of the event, advocated strengthening the bloc's economic and political model, which he believes has benefited the European community in times of crisis, at least compared to other nations. "Our model is our strength and we have managed to resist together. We have managed a rapid response together, we built a vaccination campaign and we made it happen," the French head of state maintained. However, Macron also urged to act faster to end the emergency, acquire greater competences in areas such as health and address "essential" issues such as research and investments.
According to President von der Leyen, "The conference is not a panacea or a solution to all problems. We must listen to all voices, whether they are critical or complementary, it is a real opportunity to bring Europeans together and unite around a common ambition for our future."
Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa stressed that citizens are looking for the EU to focus on providing direct answers to concrete problems.
This position was echoed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who said that "the point is that the EU must be what Europeans want it to be", while she especially encouraged young people to have their say after more than a year of pandemic.
Watch specific segments by clicking on the corresponding links below:
- Welcome speech by Emmanuel Macron, President of France
- Speech by David Sassoli, European Parliament President
- Speech by António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal for the Presidency of the Council of the EU
- Speech by Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President
- Interventions by the Co-Chairs of the Executive Board: Guy Verhofstadt (Parliament), Ana Paula Zacarias (Council) and Dubravka Šuica (Commission)
- Or watch the entire event - including performances by Violinist Renaud Capuçon and the Karski quartet.
3. Civil society speaks up
During this week a bunch of civil society organisations as well as european personalities have raised their voices on the CoFoE calling for action.
Former High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, said to Euractiv that the Conference on the Future of Europe will provide a valuable framework to redefine the EU’s international role. However, to find the right answers, we must first ask the right questions. The Conference on the Future of Europe can catalyse much-needed reflection on how to revamp the EU’s external action. But, most importantly, if the EU wants to secure its position as a top-tier geopolitical player, it should overcome self-doubt and learn by doing, writes Javier Solana.
The Conference on the Future of Europe can contribute to this process if it genuinely and concretely involves our local communities and if it gives voice to people in our regions, cities and villages. This is key to avoid a top-down exercise that would only feed the demagogic and anti-European false narrative of populists and eurosceptics. With the CoFoE, the European Committee of the Regions, would like to establish a strong regional and local dimension of the entire conference in all EU member states, by engaging with citizens at regional and local level.
UEF, together with the Spinelli Group and supported by the European Movement International, we have launched the Appeal “Our federal Europe: sovereign and democratic”, in which we have summarised our ideas for the future. Today, we need and want a strong, legitimate, and properly financed political Union that can tackle the great transnational challenges of our time, acting decisively in a wide range of policy areas, from climate change, growing social inequalities, health and migration to foreign affairs and defence. Moreover, we are calling for stronger pan-European democracy — real European political parties and movements and proper campaigns for European elections, based on the creation of a pan-European constituency and transnational electoral lists headed by the candidates for President of the European Commission. We are striving for a Union that is both a community of destiny and values and a model for the new world now taking shape - an example of how countries can live in peace together, build cross-border and social solidarity, and protect human rights, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.
The initial signatories were: Sandro GOZI, Brando BENIFEI, Eva MAYDELL, Esteban GONZÁLEZ PONS, Domènec RUIZ DEVESA, Gabriele BISCHOFF, Pascal DURAND, Daniel FREUND, Damian BOESELAGER, Dimitrios PAPADIMOULIS, Fabio Massimo CASTALDO.
By the time of the official launch of the Future of Europe Conference, more than 450 high-level personalities had joined the appeal. An overview of the list is available here.
4. EU Survey
A new Special Eurobarometer, published one day before the signing of the Joint Declaration by the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission, focusses on the Conference on the Future of Europe, measuring attitudes towards it and some of the key themes to be covered. This Conference aims to create a new public forum for an open, inclusive, transparent and structured debate with Europeans around the issues that matter to them and affect their everyday lives. The survey, conducted between October and November 2020 by Kantar, has been commissioned jointly by the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Two days ahead of the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe, Parliament today published the results of its Eurobarometer survey on the future of Europe.
Around eight in ten Europeans (81%) agree that the Conference should prioritise dealing with how the EU could better handle crises such as the coronavirus outbreak, including more than a third (38%) who strongly agree.
Europeans who are willing to get involved in the Conference on the future of Europe would foremost like to do so through meetings in their local area, such as citizens’ debates or assemblies (44%). Citizens could contribute to the Conference’s ideas gathering process by answering a survey (34%), by putting forward ideas and proposals to European and national politicians (31%) and by taking part in online consultations via discussion platforms (30%), those surveyed said.
More than eight in ten Europeans (83%) agree that the Conference should specifically involve young people to foster new ideas, including four in ten (40%) who totally agreed.
5. What’s next?
The Executive Board will soon set the date for the first Conference Plenary meeting. Preparations for the Citizens’ Panels are underway, while the number of participants and events on the Conference’s Multilingual Digital Platform continue to grow. The Conference is committed to give maximum space to young people and in this vein, preparations for the European Youth Event organised by the European Parliament in October also continue.
In the health domain the EU needs more powers and competences and that may necessitate treaty change. That would be important and I am always open to treaty change”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
1. The Citizens’ Platform
After over a year of intra-institutional infighting, lots of fine-tuning, vague goals, a postponed start and yet undecided physical formats, the digital platform of the Conference on the Future of Europe was finally launched on Monday 19 April.
The platform provides a digital space for citizens to interact and exchange ideas on how they see the future of Europe, and directly feeds in the Conference’s panel discussions.
Following a bottom-up approach, the platform will be the central hub of the Conference, bringing together all citizens’ contribution. To allow for a truly pan-European discussion, it will be available in all 24 EU official languages through immediate translation.
In keeping with the inter-institutional nature of the Conference, the platform was launched in a joint press conference with the three co-chairs of the Conference’s Executive Board: Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, MEP Guy Verhofstadt, and Portuguese Secretary of State Ana Paula Zacarias.
The Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt pointed out the symbolic significance of the launch: a day after the 70th anniversary of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the supranational organisation created after World War II that is now considered the embryo of the European Union.
Platform users have to abide by a Conference Charter to ensure a respectful and inclusive exchange of ideas.
As a citizen-led exercise, the platform will be open to all European citizens who are interested in joining an event, exchanging ideas or organising an event to discuss what should be the EU positions on the nine key topics.
The selection of the most relevant ideas discussed on the platform will be powered by artificial intelligence and these ideas will then feed into the citizens’ panel discussions that will be one of the building blocks of the conference.
The European Commission is committed to following up on whatever request might be made by the European citizens, hence not excluding a possible charge of the Treaties. If successful, the online platform might become a permanent public consultation tool.
The interactive platform will stimulate discussion. Regular panels will be regularly organised between citizens, experts, elected representatives and other stakeholders to analyse and reflect on the ideas and recommendations. The main proposals will be then brought to the conference's high body, the plenary, for final consideration.
You can have your say on the future of the European Union here.
UEF has been the first political organization to submit a proposal in the platform.
2. Citizen’s Panels
At the third meeting of the Executive Board, the representatives of the European Parliament, Council of the EU and the European Commission endorsed the Conference’s Rules of Procedure regarding the European citizens' panels, and in relation to the Principles and the Scope of the Conference.
Each panel will comprise 200 citizens and will ensure that at least one female and one male citizen per Member State is included. Citizens will be chosen randomly to set up panels that are representative of the EU’s diversity, in terms of geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and level of education. Young people between 16 and 25 will make up one-third of each panel.
3. The Conference Launching Event
The event formally launching the Conference on the Future of Europe on Europe Day (9 May) is set to be a ‘hybrid’ of online and physical participation because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It will be broadcasted live, and will feature remote citizen participation.
The Conference launching event will be chaired by the Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, because he holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU until 30 June, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The grand opening of the Conference on the Future of Europe will feature the French President Emmanuel Macron as the first speaker, as president of the host country of the European Parliament’s Strasbourg seat.
4. Youth Ideas
The Youth Outreach Unit of the European Parliament has built an online platform where you can outline your own ideas on the issues that Europe is facing today and your ideas for the Europe of tomorrow. The aim of the platform is to make it easier for youth to participate actively in the CoFoE.
5. Merkel Open to Treaty Changes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday 21st April that she would be open to making changes to the EU's founding treaties, particularly in the area of health policy, and urged the bloc to find ways to make its foreign policy more efficient.
"I believe that Europe needs more competencies in the area of health. This will probably also require changes to the treaties," Merkel said at an event organized by the European People's Party, which discussed potential EU reforms that could also come up as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The chancellor also reiterated previous calls for reforming EU treaties in the area of competition policy to facilitate the creation of so-called European champions that can compete with bigger rivals from China or the U.S. Merkel said the EU could also reform the way it makes decisions on certain policies to make the process more efficient, such as by changing the threshold for approval from unanimity to a qualified majority. On foreign policy, Merkel said that “unanimity can also be abandoned on certain issues."
The EU committees of the French National Assembly and the German Bundestag demanded that the plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, gets the final say over what makes the cut — not its executive board in a joint statement.
6. What’s next?
Following the launch of the multilingual digital platform enabling all European Union (EU) citizens to participate in the Future of Europe Conference, The Commissioner for Democracy and Demography Dubravca Šuica pointed to “awareness raising” as “the next big step”.
“The platform allows citizens to start getting involved now, without further delay. After this morning, we have over 3,000 contributions on the platform, which means it is a good tool in times of pandemic”.
The next meeting of the Executive Board is scheduled to take place on 9 May in Strasbourg. Nevertheless, additional meetings might still be scheduled in the weeks before.
The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is a European Union (EU) initiative aimed at reforming its policies and institutions, following large-scale consultations across the continent. Initially presented by President Emmanuel Macron in March 2019, the proposal was subsequently taken up by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who included it in her vision for the European Commission's (EC) mandate for the 2019-2024 period.
The European Council referred to the Conference in December 2019, stressing that it should be held between 2020-2022 and deliver concrete results to citizens.
In January 2020, the European Parliament adopted its position on the Conference, calling for it to be an open forum without a predetermined outcome and for its recommendations to be turned into actions, including a possible amendment of the EU Treaties.
Also in January 2020, the EC proposed May 9, 2020 as the start date for the Conference and two years as the total duration. The EC concept included two parallel work streams for the CoFoE, one focused on EU priorities in different areas such as climate change, the economy, equality, digitalization, European values, the EU's global role and democratic foundations; while the second related to democratic and institutional processes, such as the system of leading candidates (known as Spitzenkandidaten) or transnational lists for European elections.
In June 2020, the EU Council adopted its position on the Conference, calling for an inclusive process, but stating that its results should not necessarily imply changing the Treaties.
2. Current Status
After an initial deadlock due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing public health crisis, the Conference suffered another major hurdle: the appointment of the Conference President. This was because the Council rejected the candidacy of the federalist MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, proposed by the European Parliament, without offering any alternative. For several months under the German Presidency of the Council of the EU (July-December 2020), the message coming from the institutions was that a Joint Declaration - a document defining the objectives, scope, structure and timing of the Conference - was almost ready and that only agreement on the leadership of the Presidency was needed for the CoFoE to get underway.
However, it was not until February 3 of this year, during the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council (January-June 2021), that EU ambassadors reiterated the Council's previous position, but this time calling for an imminent launch of the CoFoE. They proposed, on the other hand, a joint presidency of the EP, EC and Council presidents.
Finally, the presidents of the EP, the EC and the Council adopted a Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe on March 4. The Joint Declaration was signed by the three institutions on March 10, 2021.
With this Declaration, the CoFoE will be officially launched on May 9, Europe Day, and will end, in theory, in the spring of 2022 with the French Presidency of the Council of the EU (January-June 2022). The objectives, principles, governance and methodology of the Conference are described in the Joint Declaration.
3. What will the Conference consist of and where will it take place?
The CoFoE will not consist of a single Conference or event, but of a series of physical and digital meetings, panels and debates involving European citizens.
Both physical and online events may be organized at different transnational, national and regional levels. At the European level, the institutions will be in charge of organizing the citizens' panels, which will be broadcast. All events will be conducted in collaboration with civil society and stakeholders.
4. The digital platform
In addition, all contributions from the events will be collected, discussed and published on a multilingual digital platform that will be officially launched on April 19. The platform will allow European citizens to contribute with their views on any topic they consider important for the future of the EU. According to the European Commission, the platform has been developed with the threat of disinformation in mind and will be monitored by a team of moderators. Thus, the platform will allow citizens to put forward their ideas and also to comment on those of others, as well as to create and participate in events. Citizens will need to sign up to a charter of EU values and principles in an effort to avoid hate speech and disinformation on the site. The proposals will be discussed at the Conference Plenary, composed of representatives of EU institutions, national parliaments and citizens.
5. Which citizens will be able to participate?
Any citizen will be able to take part in the events. The Declaration ensures that there will be an equitable distribution of representatives in terms of several factors: geography, gender, age, socioeconomic background and/or level of education. In addition, young people will play an essential role through events especially dedicated to them, as the role of this sector of the population is essential for the lasting impact of the Conference.
6. Who will chair the Conference?
The Conference has a triple joint presidency, composed of the Presidents of the EC, the EP and the rotating Presidency of the Council, namely Ursula von der LEYEN, David SASSOLI and Antonio COSTA.
The Executive Board, which will take decisions by consensus and will be assisted by a Joint Secretariat, will oversee the work of the Conference and prepare the plenary meetings of the Conference, including the follow-up of citizens' contributions. The President of the European Parliament and the leaders of the political groups approved on 17 March the composition of this board: first of all, Guy VERHOFSTADT (Renew Europe, BE), Manfred WEBER (EPP, DE) and Iratxe GARCÍA PÉREZ (S&D, ES). The following MEPs will have observer roles: Gerolf ANNEMANS (ID, BE), Daniel FREUND (Greens/EFA, DE), Zdzisław KRASNODĘBSKI (ECR, PL) and Helmut SCHOLZ (The Left, DE).
The Joint Secretariat is composed of Ana Paula ZACARIAS, representing the Council, Commissioner Dubravka ŠUICA, representing the Commission and MEP Guy VERHOFSTADT representing the Parliament.
The Plenary Assembly of the Conference, whose composition is not yet known, will meet every six months to ensure that citizens' proposals are discussed in the forum.
7. What topics will be discussed?
Proposed areas of discussion include:
- Building a healthy continent.
- The fight against climate change and environmental challenges,
- An economy that works for people, social justice, equality and intergenerational solidarity,
- Digital transformation,
- Rights and values, including the rule of law,
- The role of the EU in the world,
- The democratic foundations of the Union,
- The strengthening of the democratic processes governing the EU,
- Possible cross-cutting issues related to better regulation, application of subsidiarity and proportionality, implementation and enforcement of the acquis and transparency.
- In addition, citizens will be free to raise additional issues beyond these proposals, as long as they are on areas where the EU has the capacity to act or where action would have benefits for European citizens.
Given this last statement in the Joint Declaration, we are faced with the question of the reform of the Treaties. Reform of the Treaties yes or reform of the Treaties no? It is difficult to say for sure at this stage. While the EP has clearly opted for this, the Council has been more than reticent on this issue and the EC has not expressed itself in any way. The Council's initial position made it clear that this was not a possibility at all. However, in the final Declaration there is no mention of this condition, which was previously sine qua non for the Council to approve the launching of the Conference, nor is there any explicit veto of this idea. Moreover, it seems that the statement that "citizens will be free to raise additional issues" reflects that the door is open.
8. What happens after the Conference and what can we expect from the results obtained?
The Plenary will prepare a series of recommendations for the EU to follow up the Conference. The Presidents of the EP, the Council and the EC have committed themselves to follow up the recommendations of the Conference within their competences and respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
- JOINT PR: Conference on the Future of Europe: launch of the multilingual digital platform
- JOINT PR: Conference on the Future of Europe: preparations continue
- EU committees of the French National Assembly and the German Bundestag:
- Conference on the Future of Europe: Political process with strong involvement of the citizens
- EP group leaders’ statement on the Conference on the Future of Europe
- EESC JOINT PR: A New Narrative for Europe
- Speech by the President: Conference on the Future of Europe (europa.eu)
- 20210310_speech_prime-minister_en.pdf (2021portugal.eu)
- Ceremony for the signing of the joint declaration on the Conference on the future of Europe | The President | European Parliament (europa.eu)
- Joint Declaration on the Conference of the Future of Europe
- Work begins on the Conference on the Future of Europe
- Joint PR: Conference on the Future of Europe: launch of the citizens’ platform on 19 April
Research and academic papers:
- FRIENDS OF EUROPE: Has Europe lost the fight for truth?
- CEPS: The Conference on the Future of Europe: what to expect?
- BRUEGEL: Do citizens care about Europe? More than they used to
- Berlin e-Working Papers on European Law
- Frank Hoffmeister - Episkey! Plädoyer für einen ausgewogenen Übergang zu Mehrheitsentscheidungen im Rat der Europäischen Union in ausgewählten Politikbereichen
- Berlin e-Working Papers on European Law:
- Christian Calliess - Die Gesundheitspolitik der EU in der Corona Krise (Covid-19-Pandemie) – Reformüberlegungen mit Blick auf die Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas
- EU-wide survey shows Europeans support the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe
- FRIENDS OF EUROPE: The Conference on the Future of Europe: are we there yet?
- EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESEARCH SERVICE: Transnational Electoral Lists: Ways To Europeanise Elections To The European Parliament
- GERMAN INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AND SECURITY AFFAIRS: The Conference on the Future of Europe - Obstacles and Opportunities to a European Reform Initiative That Goes beyond Crisis Management