The Conference on the Future of Europe was inaugurated on 9 May, Europe Day, in the French city of Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament. The inaugural event celebrated the launch of the participatory process set up jointly by Parliament, Council and Commission.
The Executive Board of the Conference approved on 9 May the Rules of Procedure that set out the composition of the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and how it will work.
The text approved on Europe Day 2021 will complete the rules determining how the Conference Platform, Panels and Plenary can transform citizens' priorities, hopes and concerns into actionable recommendations. It adds to the rules previously adopted concerning the working methods of the Executive Board and those related to citizens' participation.
Ensuring that citizens' input will be taken into account
The Conference Plenary will be composed of 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per Member State) and 3 from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, and citizens. 108 citizens will participate to discuss citizens' ideas stemming from the Citizens' Panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform: 80 representatives from the European Citizens' Panels, of which at least one-third will be younger than 25, and 27 from national Citizens' Panels or Conference events (one per Member State), as well as the President of the European Youth Forum.
Some 18 representatives from both the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, and another eight from both social partners and civil society will also take part, while the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will be invited when the international role of the EU is discussed. Representatives of key stakeholders may also be invited. The Conference Plenary will be gender-balanced.
Their exchanges will be structured thematically around recommendations from the Citizens' Panels and input gathered from the Multilingual Digital Platform. The Platform is the single place where input from all Conference-related events will be collected, analysed and published. In due course, the Plenary will submit its proposals to the Executive Board, who will draw up a report in full collaboration and full transparency with the Plenary and which will be published on the Multilingual Digital Platform.
The final outcome of the Conference will be presented in a report to the Joint Presidency. The three institutions will examine swiftly how to follow up effectively to this report, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties.
Parliament's Co-Chair of the Executive Board, Guy Verhofstadt, said: “We want to create real momentum from the bottom up. The Conference will be much more than a listening exercise, but a way to truly include citizens in mapping out our shared European future. The foundations have been laid: digital and deliberative democratic experiments that have never been tried on an EU-wide scale. We will guarantee that their concerns and proposals will then get a political answer. It's new and exciting, and it starts [today].”
The Portuguese Secretary of State for EU Affairs, and Co-Chair from the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ana Paula Zacarias, said: “Coming from Porto to Strasbourg, to celebrate Europe Day and the launching of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the words of President Mario Soares came to my mind when back in 1976 he defended: ‘to rethink Europe and its future is a permanent duty of all Europeans. A joint endeavour that needs to be taken forward with humbleness facing the historic relevance of our common goals."
Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, and Co-Chair, Dubravka Šuica, said: “This Conference is an unprecedented exercise for the EU. We are creating a space where citizens can debate on a par with elected representatives to spell out the future of Europe. This has never been tried before, but we are confident that this will strengthen both our European Union and our representative democracy. And there is no better date to celebrate that than on the 9th May.”
Celebrating Europe Day
The Presidents of the EU institutions delivered speeches on their vision for Europe, following a welcome speech by President Macron, while the Co-Chairs of the Executive Board answered questions posed by citizens from across EU Member States. Erasmus students from across the EU, together with members of the Conference's Executive Board were physically present, fully respecting the applicable sanitary rules, and over 500 citizens attended the event remotely. Ministers for European affairs, Members of the European Parliament and national Parliaments, and other VIP guests also joined remotely.
The Executive Board will soon set the date for the first Conference Plenary meeting. Preparations for the Citizens' Panels are underway, while the number of participants and events on the Conference's Multilingual Digital Platform continue to grow. The Conference is committed to give maximum space to young people and in this vein, preparations for the European Youth Event organised by the European Parliament in October also continue.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is an event that will have wide-spanning consequences and establish an unprecedented line of communications between the EU institutions and the citizens. Commissioner Šuica had stated that the Conference on the Future of Europe website will remain after the ending of the conference, which will allow European citizens to have an option of a direct input to the EU legislative process. These steps to include Europeans further in EU-level decision-making is important if the EU is to truly belong to and work for Europeans. ECOPNET (European Cooperation and Partnership Network) supports the steps of the EU to strengthen its ties with citizens and highlights the vital role civil society organisations play to make sure that this tie is never broken and only gets stronger.
Source: European Commission Press Corner