Last Sunday, the Conference on the Future of the Europe was launched in Strasbourg. What is it, and why is it needed?
In a nutshell: the conference should become the largest event in the history of the EU, unless it is cut off at the knees, as it happens. During the conference, which will last a year, EU residents have the opportunity to say what changes are the desires of our hearts and our eyes, as the old song goes. As a result of this European “work party”, we are supposed to change, perhaps even at the level of fundamental agreements.
It does not necessarily mean that everything will happen this way. Reforms in Europe are a long and bloody process. 20 years ago, the Convention on the Future of the European Union was held, and it ended in triumph: the leaders of the member states signed the European Constitution. But a couple of years later, it was nipped in the bud by referendums in France and the Netherlands.
And in 2007, the EU signed the Lisbon Treaty, which changed at least something. True, then there was no economic crisis. Today the stakes are much higher. But so is the resistance. In the EU, there are essentially two camps fighting. One stands for a united Europe, for a federation in which human and social rights are equally guaranteed in all countries. The second one is to ensure that national governments do not lose an iota of power, and to keep the concept of “Europe” vague and rather empty for its inhabitants.
In preparation for the Conference on the Future of Europe, these camps also collided. It was originally planned to launch the conference a year ago, but COVID-19 got in the way. In the autumn, a battle for leadership took place. The European Parliament proposed to make as head of the Conference my colleague from the Renew Europe group, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt. The European Council was not budging, as Guy is a federalist and does not hide it. As a result, they decided to create a management board for the Conference: nine people, three each from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council.
The most recent battle took place just this past week. MEPs wanted the final decision on how to reorganise the EU to be adopted by the plenary session of the Conference. It includes 433 people: 108 MEPs, 108 deputies (four from each member state), 108 representatives of EU citizens and the rest of European officials. Our reasoning is simple: if we have a democracy, the more people decide, the better. Once again, the European Council was against it, as it wanted everything to be decided by the board, which is the nine chosen ones. A compromise was found two days before the ceremony for the inaugural event.
All this shows is the following: the EU desperately needs reforms. But they cannot be discussed in the “Brussels bubble”, as the air is too stale there. The conference on the future should be an air leak that will ventilate the brains of Brussels. Again I say that the outcome of this event is not predetermined. Yes, everyone can make their own proposal, but the European Parliamentary Committees on Petitions and Civil Liberties exist for the same purpose. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to reach out to Brussels.
Nevertheless, the Conference has begun. The European Commission has launched a website with an optimistic slogan: “The future is in your hands”. Browse it, take part and put pressure on European officials, as this is the only way to change something.