First phase of Conference on the Future of Europe ends with unanimity on final report

First phase of Conference on the Future of Europe ends with unanimity on final report
Closing ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe at the European Parliament on 9 May 2022, credit: EU Presidency

The conference came officially to a close on Europe Day when the three Co-Chairs of the Conference Executive Board, representing the Council, the Parliament and the Commission, delivered a final report containing the proposals to the Presidents of the three institutions.

In a closing ceremony on Monday in Strasbourg, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola,  France's President Emmanuel Macron, on behalf of the Council Presidency, and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen received the final report from the Co-Chairs.

As already reported, this first phase of the conference resulted in an agreed  set of 40 detailed proposals, each one with an overall objective and altogether over 300 concrete measures for implementation, based on feedback and ideas from  citizens participating in the conference plenary and previous citizens panels.

The final report states that the pledge given to European citizens at the start of the conference a year ago was simple: to allow, by way of a citizens-focused, bottom-up exercise, all Europeans to have a say on what they expect from the EU and have a greater role in shaping the future of the Union.

By contrast, the report says, their task was immensely challenging: the organisation, for the first time, of a transnational, multilingual and inter-institutional exercise of deliberative democracy, involving thousands of European citizens as well as political actors, social partners, civil society representatives and key stakeholders.

“The Conference has constituted an unprecedented experience of transnational deliberative democracy. It has also proven its historical relevance and importance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian aggression of Ukraine.”

Citizen participation in EU’s policy and decision making is key in strengthen European democracy. A central and particularly innovative feature of the Conference was the European Citizens’ Panels, organised on the main topics of the conference.

A total of 800 randomly selected citizens, representative of the EU’s sociological and geographical diversity, organised into four Panels of 200 citizens, met for three deliberative sessions each. The European Citizens’ Panels came up with recommendations that fed into the overall conference deliberations, in particular, into the Conference Plenaries.

Overview of organisation and work

The report gives an overview on how the conference and the panels were organised at EU level and in the member states with a focus on transparency. The plenary meetings of the European Citizens’ Panels were live-streamed, while the documents of their discussions and deliberations were made publicly available on the Multilingual Digital Platform.

A Conference Plenary was set up to debate the recommendations from the National and European Citizens’ Panels, grouped by themes, without a predetermined outcome and without limiting the scope to predefined policy areas. Input gathered from the Multilingual Platform was also debated when relevant.

While citizens were well represented in the conference, the plenary meetings and the working groups were dominated by representatives from parliaments and the European institutions. Nine thematic working groups were established, according to the themes of the Multilingual Digital Platform, in order to give input to prepare the debates and the proposals of the Conference Plenary.

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Commission officials confirmed to The Brussels Times that the decisive Conference Plenary was composed of a majority of elected politicians and parliament members: 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 108 representatives from all national parliaments, 54 from the Council and 3 from the European Commission.

The public was represented by 80 representatives from European Citizens’ Panels, of which at least one third was younger than 25, the President of the European Youth Forum and 27 representatives of national events and/ or National Citizens’ Panels participated.

In addition, 18 representatives from the Committee of the Regions and 18 from the Economic and Social Committee, 6 elected representatives from regional authorities and 6 elected representatives from local authorities, 12 representatives of the social partners, and 8 from civil society also participated.

The 49 proposals were put forward and formulated by the Conference Plenary to the Executive Board of the Conference on a consensual basis. Such consensus was found between the representatives of the European Parliament, the Council, the European Commission and National Parliaments.

Citizens’ message

During the closing plenary (29-30 April 2022), the members of the citizens’ component presented their final position on the proposals. Their presentation was designed collectively and presented by 17 of them at the final debate. The final report includes a summary of the key messages from their interventions.

“Europe needs a more democratic Union. European citizens love the EU, but let’s face it: it is not always easy. You called on us to help you and asked us: How should European democracy look like in the Future? And we answered to you: We citizens want a Europe in which decisions are made transparently and quickly, where the unanimity principle is reconsidered and in which we citizens are regularly and seriously involved.”

While the citizens representatives write that they agree and support all proposals (besides one), there were ups and downs along the way. “We did not always get an answer to our questions. We know that it will take time for the proposals to be implemented. But we are confident that you will do what it takes to make it happen, out of respect for our joint work.”

“If we, the citizens, were able to get past our differences, the language barriers, to work together and grow to your level, so can you.”

The only point where the citizens expressed a diverging position was on measure 38.4, third bullet “since it originated neither from the European nor the National Panels and was not sufficiently discussed in the Plenary Working Group”. The bullet point says that, “European Parliament should decide on the budget of the EU as it is the right of parliaments at the national level.”

“So, from the bottom of our hearts, read the proposals well and implement them, for the sake of Europe’s future,” the citizens message ends.

Executive board’s perspective

The Executive board writes in its final considerations that the “proposals make very clear that the EU must act to achieve the green and digital transitions, strengthen Europe’s resilience and its social contract, while addressing inequalities and ensuring that the European Union is a fair, sustainable, innovative and competitive economy that leaves no one behind”.

According to the board, the geopolitical developments during the conference, and especially the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, have also shown that the EU needs to be more assertive, taking a leading global role in promoting its values and standards in a world increasingly in turmoil.

“The Conference has provided a clear direction in these areas and the three EU Institutions now need to examine how to follow up on the concerns, ambitions, and ideas expressed. The next step in this process is to come up with concrete EU action building on the outcome of the conference, contained in this final report.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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