Is the future of the EU finally to be decided by average citizens?

Benoit BOURGEOIS © European Union 2020 – Source : EP

The long-awaited and much-debated conference on the future of Europe finally seems to be gaining some traction now that the European Parliament has signed a joint declaration by the Parliament, Commission and Council. The project was set to launch in May 2020 already but hit a brick wall due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

While the past year was marked by all three institutions fighting over the conference’s leadership, goals, structure and scope, the long wait seems to have brought them to a compromise. ‘The European Parliament endorses the joint declaration because we want the Conference on the Future of Europe to start its work as soon as possible,” it stated in a press release.

But what is the conference of Europe and what exactly did the three main EU bodies agree on? 

The Conference on the Future of Europe was first put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 as a way to involve European citizens more in determining the future of the European Union. According to Macron, the conference should provide an opportunity to propose all necessary changes, including treaty revision. 

While the European Parliament was generally a big supporter of Macron’s plan and even proposed MEP Guy Verhofstad, a federalist at heart, as its leader, European governments seemed to be less keen. While they did agree with much of the plan, they excluded the possibility of treaty change and limited the scope of the project. Besides, Verhofstad as President was out of the question, since the heads of state and government worried he would drive the EU too far into supranationalism. 

Bickering between institutions put the project to a further halt but now, in March 2021, they seem to have finally agreed and the project is back on its feet. The question remains of course: 

What exactly is the conference going to look like? 

All three institutions, that is the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council will lead the conference as equal partners. The ‘Joint Presidency’ will be supported by several other bodies, such as the ‘Executive Board’ with equal representation from all three institutions, and a ‘Common Secretariat’ to assist them. A ‘Conference Plenary’, consisting of representatives of the three main EU bodies, will meet at least once every six months to make sure that the national and European citizens’ panels conclusions will be discussed properly. 

The conference is supposed to be a citizens-focused, bottom-up exercise for Europeans to have their say on what they expect from the EU. Several conference events and debates will be organised across the Union on a European, (trans)national and regional level. On the European level, participants will be able to join European citizens’ panels that should be representative of geographic origin, gender, age, education and socio-economic background. And while events are being organised on national and regional levels, too, member states are encouraged to organise additional events at their own discretion. In the end, all feedback from the panels, debates and discussions will be compiled and put in front of the ‘Conference Plenary’. 

The conference’s first (online) events are expected to start soon as the signatories state that they will invite the conference to reach conclusions by Spring 2022. 

We will keep you up to date in the meantime.