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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Conference on the Future of Europe: citizens demand more from the EU

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On 2 December, EU institutions and over 500 citizens assessed the follow-up to the proposals of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The European Parliament hosted today’s feedback event on the Conference on the Future of Europe in Brussels, involving representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, as well as the citizens who were at the core of the Conference’s work. They examined how the EU institutions are following up on the Conference’s’ proposals.

Opening the feedback event, Parliament’s President Roberta Metsola said: “The European Parliament is ready to do its part in delivering on the proposals of the Conference on the Future of Europe in the interest of the 450 million Europeans that it represents. Vision takes courage. When it comes to implementing citizens’ proposals, no suggestion for change should be off-limits. The Conference on the Future of the Europe and the proposals presented are not the end. There is no end-date to the future. There is not a checklist that we need to tick. The Future is a work in progress. So is our Union.”

Guy Verhofstadt, in his capacity as former Co-Chair of the Conference, commented: “In times of insecurity, politics needs a vision of what’s ahead. With the Conference on the Future of Europe, citizens pointed the way forward. The feedback event is the moment to discuss what we, politicians, have done with the conclusions we reached together last year and to look ahead. Because our commitment is not over yet: we need to keep delivering not just on the proposals but on the spirit in which they were written – a new idea of Europe, fit for the challenges of the future.”

The Council was represented by Minister for European Affairs Mikuláš Bek from the Czech Presidency. Vice-Presidents Maroš Šefčovič, Dubravka Šuica, and Margaritis Schinas represented the Commission.

Debate with citizens

The ensuing debate revolved around key challenges that the Union is facing today, including Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its consequences on the everyday lives of Europeans, as well as the need to speed up the process to achieve energy independence in the EU. Many speakers focussed on the institutional reforms that would be needed to implement the Conference’s proposals in their entirety, including those on the taxation of multinationals and cooperation in the external dimension of EU affairs. Over the course of the day, citizens brought to the table questions from the full range of topics that the Conference’s proposals cover, including: climate change and environment; physical and mental health; education and culture; the digital transition; migration-related challenges; threats to European values and the EU budget; the state of the European economy; and the role of young people in all of these areas.

The prospect of launching a Convention to revise the EU Treaties was repeatedly mentioned, as well as the potential activation of passerelle clauses in the existing framework, and the need to further improve communication between the EU institutions. The lessons in participatory democracy drawn from this year-long, unprecedented exercise also featured prominently in the exchange, including the Commission’s intention to set up citizen consultations ahead of important legislative proposals. Citizens put forward suggestions on how to ensure that all participants’ voices are equally heard, despite linguistic and structural barriers.

MEPs highlighted that Parliament will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure that it fulfils its core mission of keeping the EU accountable towards all Europeans, while presenting concrete examples on how the Conference’s proposals have become key drivers in EP work, each in line with their and their political groups’ priorities. Most of them also reiterated Parliament’s call to establish a Convention to revise the EU Treaties, and some noted that work across all of Parliament’s committees is underway to finalise the comprehensive legislative initiative report on its proposals to this end.

A few speakers expressed contrary views, doubting the usefulness of the Conference, denouncing the use of taxpayers’ money, and speaking against the direction of the EU as a whole.

Background

The Conference’s 49 proposals include more than 300 measures on how to achieve them, across nine themes, based on the recommendations from the European and National Citizens’ Panels, as well as input from national events, the multilingual digital platform and discussions within nine thematic working groups and the Plenary. The three institutions have started the implementation and follow-up process to the Conference’s proposals in accordance with their respective competences.

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