The “Conference on the Future of Europe” and citizens’ participation
On 1 March, the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States to the EU (COREPER) agreed on the “zero draft” of the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe. Under the headline “Engaging with citizens for democracy – Building a more resilient Europe”, the four-page draft lays down the general approach and well as the “how”, “what” and the principles of the Conference.
- General approach: The Conference is supposed to “open a new space for debate with citizens to address Europe’s challenges and priorities. European citizens from all walks of life and corners of the Union will be able to participate, with young Europeans playing a central role in shaping the future of the European project”. As “a joint undertaking of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission, acting as equal partners together with the Member States of the European Union”, the three EU institutions “jointly commit to listen to Europeans and to follow up on the recommendations made by Conference, in full respect of our competences and the subsidiarity and proportionality principles enshrined in the European Treaties.” Under the umbrella of the Conference “events in partnership with civil society and stakeholders at European, national, regional and local level, with national and regional Parliaments, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, social partners and academia” will be organised “under a set of common principles to be agreed by the structures of the Conference” ensuring “that the Conference goes far beyond Europe’s capital cities and reaches every corner of the Union.”
Organisation and working method: The Conference shall be a “citizens-focused, bottom-up exercise” to give Europeans a say on Europe’s future through events and debates at European, national, transnational and regional level, which “should aim at mirroring Europe’s diversity” as well as an interactive multilingual digital platform. At the European level, the European institutions commit to organise European citizens panels, which shall be “representative in terms of citizens’ geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and/or level of education” and will be completed by specific events dedicated to young people. The panels “should take on board contributions gathered in the framework of the Conference providing input to the Conference Plenary by formulating a set of recommendations for the Union to follow-up on.” In addition, “each Member State and institution can organise national citizens’ panels or thematic events bringing together input from different panels.” Events in the framework of the Conference will be “organised along a set of principles and minimum criteria reflecting EU values to be defined by the Conference structures.” Finally, the European institutions will also reach out to citizens and “promote broader, interactive and creative forms of participation.” Input from all Conference-related events will be “collected, analysed, monitored and published throughout the Conference via a multilingual digital platform, on which citizens can share their ideas and send online submissions.” The Conference will be governed by the joint presidency of the Conference presented by the presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission, and an Executive Board composed of three representatives each from the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission, supported by up to four observers – allowing the representation of the seven political groups in the EP. The presidential troika of COSAC, the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union, will participate as observer in the board, while the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee may also be invited as observers, as well as representatives of other EU bodies and social partners where appropriate. The Executive Board will be assisted by a Common Secretariat ensuring equal representation of the three institutions. A Conference Plenary composed of representatives from the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission, as well as representatives from all national Parliaments, on an equal footing and citizens”, including “the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, and social partners and civil society representatives” will meet at least vey six months. The Plenary will “ensure that the recommendations from the national and European citizens’ panels, grouped by themes, are debated without a predetermined outcome and without limiting the scope to pre-defined policy The Executive Board will draw and publish the conclusions of the Conference Plenary.
- Topics: As regards the topics of the Conference, the three institutions “aim to give citizens a say on what matters to them”. Referring to the priorities of the European Council and the European Commission as well as to the challenges posed by the COVID-10 pandemic, the draft Joint Declaration mentions themes such as “building a healthy continent, the fight against climate change and environmental challenges, an economy that works for people, social fairness, equality and intergenerational solidarity, Europe’s digital transformation, European rights and values including the Rule of Law, migration challenges, security, the EU’s role in the world, the Union’s democratic foundations, and how to strengthen democratic processes governing the European Union” while “discussions can also cover cross-cutting issues related to the EU’s ability to deliver on policy priorities such as better regulation, application of subsidiarity and proportionality, implementation and enforcement of the acquis and transparency.” The text clarifies that the “Conference should reflect the areas where the European Union has the competence to act or where European Union action would have been to the benefit of European citizens” while the latte “remain free to raise additional issues that matter to them.”
- Principles: “Inclusiveness, openness and transparency” are mentioned as the key principles of the Conference, and its governance and events shall be “based on the values of the EU as enshrined in the EU Treaties and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.” European citizens’ panels will be broadcasted and the Conference will “recognisable through a single identity and a Conference Charter that all organisers of events have to subscribe to.”
The Joint Declaration, which is on the agenda of COREPER again on 3 March and the meeting of the president s of the political groups in the EP on 4 March, shall be signed by the presidents of the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Commission and the latter two still have to agree upon the text, the draft of which was leaked on Twitter on 2 March here.
On 1 March, European Civil Society Day, a new “European Hub for Civic Engagement” was launched after two years of consultations with civil society organisations across Europe. The “Hub” is digital platform offering activists tools to find relevant peers, funding opportunities, events, best practices and news in their fields of work. It was initiated by the Berlin think tank “Das Progressive Zentrum” (The Progressive Centre) and co-created by Alliance for Europe and Citizens for Europe. Supporters are the German Foreign Office, the Open Society Foundations in Europe, the BMW Foundation and Stiftung Mercator. More here.
Between 1 and 5 March, the “Civil Society Days” are held by the European Economic and Social Committee and include debates and workshops on topics such as “multilevel sustainable democracy”, “youth engagement”, the “European Green Deal” etc. Programme and recording are available here.
On 2 March, the “EU Observer” published an article on the state of play on the Conference of the Future of Europe, which includes statements by several MEPs and experts on its governance and duration. Link.
On 5 March, the “Participatory & Deliberative Democracy Specialist Group” of the UK Political Studies Association will organise the launch of a new book written by Graham Smith, University of Westminster, titled “Can democracy safeguard the future?” Registration here.
In June, “Zukunftsrat Demokratie”, an initiative of Austrian experts and associations engaged in citizens’ participation, will launch a citizens’ council (“Bürger*innen-Rat”) on the future of democracy in Austria. More here (in German).