3rd COFOE PLENARY
On 21-22 January, the 2rd Plenary of the CoFoE took place in Strasbourg. About to conclude, the process enters its hot political phase. The Conference Plenary discussed citizens’ recommendations and ultimately will transform them into the initiative’s outcome.
The debates revolved primarily around the 90 recommendations by the Panels on ‘European democracy / Values and rights, rule of law, security’ and ‘Climate change, environment / Health’, and related recommendations from National Citizens’ Panels.
The Panel on ‘European democracy / Values and rights, rule of law, security’ adopted 39 recommendations at its final session hosted by the European University Institute in Florence (Italy) in December. The Panel on ‘Climate change, environment / Health’ was hosted by the College of Europe in Natolin and the City of Warsaw (Poland) in January, where it finalised 51 recommendations within its remit.
Among the reccomendations of the citizens was the introduction of transnational lists in the elections to the European Parliament, composed of candidates from different Member States and which could be voted on throughout the EU. Due to the current debate in European Parliament this recommendation became very much the center of the debate not at least by the CoFoE-MEPs.
The citizens also recommend overcoming unanimity in the Council to approve certain measures and to give more powers to the European Parliament such as the legislative initiative.
They are also in favor of reopening the debate on the European Constitution and changing the names of the EU institutions to clarify their functions.
Despite an interesting agenda, some of citizens who took part expressed their impression that the politicians were not really interested in following up recommendations fairly or concretely.
During lively discussions, panellists asked for “detailed and timely” feedback from politicians on all the panels’ recommendations. Sebastián GUILLÉN, a participant from Spain, warned that Europeans “don’t want you to be telling us you will do something that you will actually never do”.
“We were given a voice, we were listened to. Now, we need solutions, not excuses. Let’s work together to ensure future generations will be proud of us, not ashamed,” said Dorin HELL, from Germany.
Following the event, Conference co-chair Guy VERHOFSTADT said he was “struck by how confidently citizens defended their recommendations, if necessary even against experienced politicians”. “It’s based on these recommendations that we need to formulate proposals and conclusions for the Conference,” he said when opening the plenary.
Conference co-chair Dubravka ŠUICA assured participants that “there’s no reason to doubt” that their calls will be heard.
Participating MEPs and members of national parliaments praised the “constructive” contributions from citizens and said they have the potential to “bring real change” to the EU.
UEF IN THE PLENARY
The Union of European Federalists (UEF) was represented in the Plenary of the CoFoE with our President and MEP Sandro GOZI, Vice-President and MEP Domènec RUIZ DEVESA and UEF Secretary General Anna ECHTERHOFF as part of the EMI Delegation to the CoFoE.
In the European Democracy Working Group, Sandro GOZI and Domènec RUIZ DEVESA emphasized the fact that citizens are reopening the debate for a future European Constitution. Citizens requested to build a stronger link between them and the European democracy, and the federalist MEPs explained to them different ways to achieve that goal – by electing directly the president of the European Commission, voting for transnational lists with European parties, giving full powers to the European Parliament and with annual citizens assemblies.
In prepartion of the Working Group Meeting, the UEF had been asked by the Chair of the Working Group, Manfred WEBER (MEP, Chair of EPP Group), to introduce the discussion of the agenda item “Citizens’ participation and youth” with a report. In view of the lively and intensive debate on many points already during the presentation of the Citizens’ Recommendations, the Working Group decided on spontaneous proposal of the Chair to deal with this agenda item, which was actually further down on the agenda of the Working Group, directly afterwards. By this the really good exchange that emerged was not interrupted.
In her presentation, the Secretary General of UEF, Anna ECHTERHOFF, then referred to the previous debate and the Citizens’ Recommendations and presented the perspective of the Union of European Federalists in her report. The top priority of the recommendations for reform would need to be the strengthening of European democracy. To achieve this objective, a real step towards a political union is needed. “This will require treaty change, which is already supported by some member states. And in line with the citizens’ recommendations No. 35 agreed in Florence, we should aim at a European Constitution. A European Constitution is necessary to adopt some of the reform proposals discussed in our conference. It is also the chance to simplify the EU’s institutional structure – a request expressed by many citizens. And a new constitutional process is a chance to engage more citizens in European politics”, said the UEF Secretary General.
With regard to the recommendations of the citizens, many similarities with the positions of the UEF could be found. These include, for example, the adoption of a new “electoral law for the European Parliament, harmonising electoral conditions” and complementing it with the “Spitzenkandidaten-Prozess”. She also stressed the importance of giving the European Parliament more powers in shaping EU policy (foreign policy, budget, taxation, …) and overcoming the frequent blockade in the Council.
In the Spinelli Group Caucus meeting, MEPs launched a new push for an EU constitution, arguing that EU leaders should heed the recommendations of the first citizens’ panel in the Conference on the Future of Europe. “We want a stronger Europe, more democratic, more reflective of daily needs of people, more ready to act and this requires changes to the current treaties,” says their declaration. The MEPs argue that following the French presidential election, there will be “a window of opportunity” for such ambitious reforms.
During the Conference Plenary, our representatives had the opportunity to discuss with the citizens’ on their proposals:
The main goal of this conference is to give voice to European democracy and experience it more directly, explained UEF President and MEP Sandro GOZI. In his speech, the UEF President encouraged his colleagues to build a real European political public space, directly voting for European political parties. Citizens would like to elect at least half of the members of the European Parliament through transnational lists, and we must follow up on their petition, added him in regards with the citizens recommendation.
“We should ensure politics serve citizens, this is the greatest contribution we can make for a better Europe. A follow up on their demands is the best way to pay homage to a great European and a friend, David Sassoli.”, concluded Sandro GOZI during the Plenary.
“Citizens are asking for transnational political parties with representatives from different member states. In the EP we are working on reforming the European electoral law, guaranteeing geographical and population balance when drawing up the lists.”, mentioned Domènec RUIZ DEVESA.
“We are at a watershed moment in Europe. We must work together, spare no effort and use all means at our disposal, to make the Conference recommendations a reality.”, added the Secretary General of EMI Petros FASSOULAS.
EU FRENCH PRESIDENCY
The 2022 French Presidency of the EU Council is set to go down in history as a moment of truth for the bloc. As such, it could mark the beginning of a new stage in Europe’s development.
President Emmanuel MACRON has laid out the agenda for his country’s six months at the helm of the Council of the European Union. In his address to the European Parliament, he championed a bold and ambitious pro-European agenda.
The French Presidency will very likely give special impetus to the conclusion of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which should take place in the first half of 2022. The plan is for the Trio Presidency, in its role as member/observer in the Executive Board of the Conference, to draw on the outcomes of the various activities and citizens’ recommendations, outline how they define the future of the Union, and start the implementation process.
MACRON will propose, along with Germany, Parliament’s right to propose legislation.
STARS ARE ALIGNING FOR EU REFORM
2021 has been a year of transition and 2022 will be “a turning point” for Europe. The winds of change blowing from some member states are bringing the EU into a new era.
Germany has just turned the page on Angela MERKEL’s 16 years of leadership, France is bracing itself for an uncertain presidential election in the spring, and in Italy DRAGHI will continue as prime minister. MERKELl’s departure leaves a vacuum that MACRON, SCHOLZ and DRAGHI are trying to fill.
The stars are aligning for real EU reform, we believe that decisive steps will be taken in the federal logic as we understand that there is an agreement between the main political forces, especially between the virtuous triangle that would leave behind years of paralysis and hesitation.
We must now take advantage of the CoFoE, to move forward a more sovereign, democratic and stronger EU.
Read Sandro GOZI and Anna ECHTERHOFF’s opinion piece for EURACTIV.
The European Parliament and Commission released a joint Special Eurobarometer on the Future of Europe. As 2022 – European Year of Youth – begins, the survey highlights the views of young Europeans on the challenges facing the European Union, alongside the key role young people are playing in the Conference on the Future of Europe.
European citizens remain continuously interested in contributing to and participating in the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Overall, Europeans see climate change and the environment, health, as well as economy, social justice and jobs as key issues for the Conference.
There is a clear expectation that the Conference should lead to tangible results. Indeed, respondents would be most encouraged to take part in the activities of the Conference if they were convinced that their participation would have a real impact.
The two European Citizens’ Panels that have not yet delivered their recommendations are due to finalise their work in February. The meeting of the Panel on ‘EU in the world / migration’ (expected to take place on 11-13 February) will be hosted by the European Institute for Public Administration in Maastricht, Netherlands. The one on ‘A stronger economy, social justice and jobs / Education, culture, youth and sport / Digital transformation’ (expected to take place on 25-27 February) will be hosted by the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, Ireland. Their recommendations will be debated at a subsequent session of the Conference Plenary in March and in the next Working Group meeting on 18 February.
During last week’s EP meeting, Clement BEAUNE stated the need for a quick follow-up on the CoFoE outcomes, hinting at the following timeline. Following the political event concluding the CoFoE on the 9th of May, the Council could hold a discussion on the outcomes during the summit on 23-24 June, providing a “first set of guidelines”. The EP could debate the outcomes and take a position during the Strasbourg plenary week of 4-7 July. The EC could announce plans and/or present initiatives at the State of the Union speech in September.
ARTICLES AND PAPERS
EURACTIV: ŠUICA: Commission will support changes to treaties if citizens ask
Citizens’ recommendations are “at the heart of the process” of the CoFoE, Dubravka ŠUICA said in an interview with EURACTIV. If the recommendations include changes to treaties, the Commission will support them, in line with its legislative role.
CARNEGIE EUROPE: European Democracy Support Annual Review 2021
In 2021, the EU and members states put in place new policies and processes aimed at supporting democracy. This Annual Review summarizes how and where Europe is directing these funds, and what are the impacts.
EURONEWS: The Conference on the Future of Europe: “we wanted to listen to citizens”–ŠUICA
Since May last year EU citizens have been able to have their say on how they think the European project is going. The CoFoE aims to build a stronger EU for the future.
EURACTIV: The EU must scrap unanimity to unlock its superpower potential
The EU is losing its relative significance at the global stage every day; while we have the potential to be a superpower, it must be unlocked by necessary reforms, such as moving to qualified-majority voting in foreign affairs, according to Dr Federiga BINDI, expert on the EU’s foreign policy at a Citizens’ Panel of the CoFoE.
EURACTIV: CoFoE: Citizens felt heard but recommendations were not debated as expected
Despite an interesting agenda at the CoFoE plenary at the EP in Strasbourg over the weekend, citizens who took part felt that EU lawmakers were not really interested in following up recommendations fairly or concretely.
EURACTIV: Too much democracy can be dangerous
The CoFoE prides itself on giving as many participants as possible a chance to speak. Unfortunately, this horizontal nature of the debate eliminates meaningful discussion of Europe’s future, writes Kaspar SCHULTZ , citizen representative of Estonia to the CoFoE.
EURACTIV: The Conference on the Future of Europe, explained (VIDEO)
The CoFoE is an EU democracy experiment where citizens across Europe are taking part in the EU policy making.
EUOBSERVER: Commissioner: Debate on Future of EU ‘cannot disappoint citizens’
Those EU citizens randomly-selected to participate in the CoFoE have so far shown an enormous appetite for structural EU reforms – including proposals for treaty change.
EURACTIV: Conference on the future of Europe: The fight over its conclusion and follow up
As the works of the CoFoE proceed, the clashes within the Conference become apparent. The last plenary provided an interesting example and a clarifying debate – Roberto Castaldi is the editor-in-chief of EURACTIV Italy and the research director at the CesUE.