The EU inaugurates today the Conference on the Future of Europe with an official event in Strasbourg on Europe Day. What is this about? Who leads it? How can citizens participate? And will their input be transformed into policy making for the next decade? Check out our top ten publications from the TEPSA Network, all about Europe Day!
During the first wave of the pandemic in Europe, the actions and statements of national leaders revealed a deep rift within the EU and the Eurozone, leading to nationalistic moves in border control and the export of medical supplies. Citizens were therefore exposed to the negative consequences of a Union with limited powers in sectors such as health and crisis management. Meanwhile, important decisions such as the approval of the Next Generation EU package and the new budget for 2021–2027 risked ending in failure due to the opposition of some member states. This picture provides an uncertain outlook for the future of the Union and raises some fundamental questions about the integration process, which will have to be answered to ensure the survival of the European project. In particular, to what extent is it possible to accommodate the growing differentiation within the Union while safeguarding the resilience of its institutions and societies? What are the prospects for integration in light of recent crises and what reforms are needed to ensure an effective response to new crises? What are the preferences of European citizens and their expectations towards the EU?
After months of toing and froing on the leadership issue, the Joint Declaration on the Conference was finally signed on 10 March by the European Commission’s President, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Parliament’s President, David Sassoli, and the President of Portugal, Antonio Costa, who is currently occupying the Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is an opportunity; an opportunity to reflect in a fundamental way on the future of Europe, on its policies and processes, its institutional structure and on what we expect from Europe, what we are ready to change or even give up. It is of utmost importance for the European Union to make use of the possibilities of such a participation process. There must be no participation simulation with little tangible results and no impact. A mere listening exercise is not appropriate considering the challenges that Europe is facing. The conclusions of the conference must rather have concrete consequences for the future policy and politics of the European Union.
The European Union is currently getting ready to embark on a large-scale debate on its future course and direction. A key question is whether this will mainly be a more visible and up-scaled continuation of various forms of citizen engagement that have been going on for a number of years already, or if the Conference will add a qualitatively new dimension and amount to something new.
The EU is now taking “further steps to advance European integration” “in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,” according to the EU’s preamble. The next step on this path will be the ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’. This path was already mapped out on 1 March 2017 by the then President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. He presented the “White Paper on the Future of Europe” with five different scenarios for the development of the union of states. Since then, Brexit has been achieved, and the unity of member states in many areas is difficult to achieve. Added to this are eminent challenges with violations of the fundamental principles of the rule of law of individual countries. With the Corona pandemic, the EU is at a historic turning point for its continued existence.
“Expectations, competences and power: understanding the dynamics of EU institutions in tackling the COVID-19 crisis and setting the tone for the Conference on the Future of Europe”, Ilke Toygür (Elcano, Spain)
The coronavirus has been an unprecedented challenge for the world. The EU, an incomplete integration project with a very high degree of interconnectedness between nation states, was slow in responding at the very beginning of the crisis. Since both health and border management are mainly member-state competences, the primary reaction was to rally around the national flag. Once the scenario and the need for a coordinated response was clearer, the shaping of a ‘European’ response could begin.
A two-year conference on the future of Europe. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says she wants people to be at the heart of all politics. She is right, if the promise is fulfilled. My great hope, as a convinced European, is that this will really happen. At the very least, there should be significant steps in this direction. The whole conference must be: From now on, Europe is first and foremost ahead of the nation states. The apparent shifts and uncertainties in the global balance of power towards China, legal certainty, common values and a common understanding of freedom, climate change and the coronavirus make the need for a strong, democratic and future-ready Europe even more evident than before.
Since the German Government began to outline key points of its forthcoming Presidency, an interesting debate has been initiated on why the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) does not rank higher on the German agenda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised high expectations when she called the CoFoE a long-term response to the current COVID-19 crisis, and the usual federalist suspects began to question how much the German government is really committed to the conference. The Foreign Office reaffirmed its clear commitment to the CoFoE. Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Foreign Office, said that he was working very hard, but that the Council was still a long way from a political consensus. A launch in 2020 is still considered possible or even probable.
Hopefully the ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ will open shortly after the summer break. The launch originally scheduled for 9 May (Europe Day), however, had to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The position papers of the Commission and European Parliament were already available. The Council’s position agreed on 24 June at Coreper level, can be found in doc. 9102/20. What will the Conference be all about?
The question of how the conference on the future of Europe should look like is still open, but some outlines are already taking shape. The focus of the discussion has gradually been shifting in recent months. In the beginning it was primarily a matter of discussing specific institutional reforms, but now it seems like the conference will be addressing a much broader range of topics. While there was initially a lot of talk about whether the conference could be the start of a formal contract alteration, this question has now been almost completely replaced by a debate on the participation of European citizens at the conference. Manuel Müller analyzes these changes on the blog The (European) federalist, and urges not to lose sight of the goal of institutional reform.