Conference on the “Future of Europe”: final stages

Intensive discussions on “European future” soon will be over: by this May, the conference is expected to publish its outcomes. However, the meeting of the Executive Board of the Conference on the Future of Europe (to take place at the end of March in Brussels) is to tackle some controversial expectations of the conferences’ outcomes, which nevertheless do not tarnish the whole event’s importance. 

At this critical time in the European history, e.g. with energy crisis, military intervention in Ukraine and twin transition, etc. it is more than vital to discuss European future. A year ago, the representatives from the three main EU institutions (Commission, Council and Parliament) signed a joint declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe. The months of discussions have shown that the positions of Conferences’ organizers have been quite different: e.g. the European Parliament voiced its interest in reaching some far-reaching results, including proposals for changes to the Treaty including possibly more powers to the Parliament. The Council’s opinion has been radically negative: it didn’t want the Conference in the first place; while the Commission’s vision was generally strongly supportive, which meant that the whole set of the College members would be busy full-time.
Therefore, before “tackling the future of Europe”, some controversies and even the internal bureaucracy shall be cleared, e.g. the Board’s meetings would exchange views on Conference’s working methods and final outcomes. The three presidents of the Conference (from Commission, the Council and the Parliament), in the letter to members of the Conference’s Executive Board urged the Conference to “aim high and be close to citizens in an extraordinary and open democratic exercise”. Thus, the EU citizens are able to contributing to the Conference “marking the importance of the Conference for Europe’s future.”
See more in: Eteris E. European Future: Main Challenges in Modern Integration Process. – Lambert Academic Publishing, LAP. 2021, 61 pp. The link to the book in: https://morebooks.shop/store/gb/book/european-future:-main-challenges-in-modern-integration-process/isbn/978-620-3-58285-7

Managing expectations and controversies
However, a dozen EU member states already urged the Conference leadership “not to overdo it”, arguing that the Conference “should not create legal obligations, nor should it duplicate or unduly interfere with the established legislative processes,” says a paper describing a “common approach” by the governments of Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Sweden.
These states were convinced that the EU’s legitimacy and popular support is intrinsically linked to meeting citizens’ expectations in terms of “tangible results and democratic, transparent processes”. Besides, the paper continued, the “follow-up is important in order to demonstrate to citizens that their input is taken seriously”; the latter actually means that the Treaty changes are not a feasible option.
Mentioned twelve EU countries are known as frugals, would like their “cautious approached to integration” be reflected in the work of the conference: they argue that both the conference’s structure should be lean, streamlined and avoid any unnecessary bureaucracy.
However, these voices could be hardly heard: i.e. the discussions’ structures and the joint presidency of the three presidents are being established, as well as the Executive Board with three members plus four observers per EU institutions involved, and a joint secretariat with six officials per institution in total, etc.
As to the Commission’s involvement (as a guiding force behind the whole idea) to the joint secretariat, it is Colin Scicluna, the head of Cabinet of Vice President Dubravka Šuica, and one more co-chare member of her Cabinet. It looks like that the conference’s secretariat will be more than just an administrative and/or non-partisan arrangement: for example, Scicluna is reporting directly to von der Leyen’s own chief of Cabinet.
Source: https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/brussels-playbook/politico-brussels-playbook-thierry-breton-vaccine-matchmaker-future-bureaucracy-euco-goes-transatlantic/; 24.03.2021

Organising discussions
The conference’ four European Citizens’ Panels take into account citizens’ contributions collected from across Europe via the multilingual digital platform and events held across the EU-27 states. The work of the Panels is also supported by presentations from prominent academics and other experts. Panelists were randomly selected by specialist contractors, who ensured that they reflected the EU’s diversity in terms of geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and level of education. EU citizens’ contributions to the Conference, submitted via the multilingual digital platform were included in a final report.
The four European Citizens’ Panels represent a citizen-led process and a cornerstone of the Conference’s work. This around 200 Europeans of different ages and backgrounds, from all EU states, met in each Panel (in person and remotely) to discuss and adopt recommendations on the challenges facing Europe now and in the future. Their deliberations take into account citizens’ contributions collected from across Europe via the Multilingual Digital Platform and events held in the states, and supported by presentations from prominent academics and other experts. EU citizens’ contributions to the Conference, submitted via the multilingual digital platform were included in a final report by the end of March. However, citizens have been able to submit contributions on the platform, to allow debate to continue online; all contributions will be covered in the final report by 9 May 2022.
During March 2022, the citizens’ ideas have been presented for the Panel discussion on the following four main “citizen’s panels”: a) EU in the world and migration, b) economy, social justice and jobs, c) culture, youth, sport, and d) digital transformation. For example, the panel on migration discussed 40 recommendations during 11-13 February in Maastricht, and the Panels on stronger economy, social justice and jobs; education, culture, youth and sport concluded their work at the end of February in Ireland.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/da/ip_22_1641.

For example, the meeting of the three panels: on “stronger economy, social justice and jobs”; on “education, culture, youth and sport”; and on “digital transformation” took place in Dublin at the end of February 2022 as a last remaining set of recommendations from the four European Citizens’ Panels of the Conference. Around 200 participants adopted 48 recommendations across five work streams: 1. Working in Europe, 2. An Economy for the Future, 3. A Just Society, 4. Learning in Europe, and 5. An Ethical and Safe Digital Transformation.
General link on the Conference in: https://futureu.europa.eu/?locale=en

Eighty panel representatives (20 from each of the four panels, of which at least one-third is aged between 16 and 25 years) have been tasked with representing the Panels at the Conference Plenary, where the Conference’s final proposals will be shaped. All four panels have now finalised their recommendations; the three preceding ones were: a) on European democracy, values and rights, rule of law and security; b) on climate change, environment and health; and c) on EU in the world/migration. The first two sets were debated at the Conference Plenary in January 2022; the other two will be debated in Strasbourg in March and final proposals will be presented to the Executive Board of the Conference during this April and May.
More in the following web-links: – Process of the Conference on the Future of Europe; – Timeline of the Conference on the Future of Europe; – Free photos, video and audio material (European Citizens’ Panels).

The Plenary debates the recommendations from national and European Citizens’ Panels, including inputs gathered from the Multilingual Digital Platform, grouped by several themes. The Panels have selected 80 citizens (20 for each Panel) to represent them in the Conference Plenary. The Plenary, which took place at the end of January 2022, put forward its proposals to the Executive Board for the final conclusion by 9 May 2022 with the participation at the Plenary by the European Commission Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis, High Representative Borrell, Vice-Presidents Šefčovič, Jourová and Šuica, and Commissioner McGuinness; in addition, Commissioners Gabriel, Breton, Ferreira and Johansson took part in different sections of the plenary meeting.
At the end of March 2022, the Conference Plenary prepared proposals based on the recommendations from both national and European Citizens’ Panels, the input gathered from the Multilingual Digital Platform and debates in the Conference Plenary and Working Groups, grouped by themes.
More information in: = Process of the Conference on the Future of Europe; = Timeline of the Conference on the Future of Europe; General reference: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_1701

 

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