In response to developments such as the growing importance of the digital economy, climate change, migration and terrorism and the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (EU), calls for EU institutional reform and greater citizen involvement have been increasing. Consequently, a reflection on the future of the EU has been taking place not only at an institutional level, but also in academia and in broader political fora.
Members of the European Parliament from the Constitutional Affairs Committee have warned that the Covid‑19 crisis has made the need for reform more crucial than ever. The Conference, say the Members, should be launched as soon as possible so that effective reforms can be implemented based on its outcome. Moreover, a joint declaration between the European Parliament, Council and Commission will need to be concluded before the summer, for the Conference to be launched in September and to be at full speed by the end of the year.
Conference on the Future of Europe
In her July 2019 statement to the European Parliament, then Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen committed to establishing a Conference on the Future of Europe, to start in 2020 and run for two years. The purpose of the Conference is to offer a new type of format which would be an inclusive platform to offer new ways for citizens to express their main concerns and have them directly taken into account in the work of the institutions.
Following a plenary debate, the European Parliament adopted its position on the Conference on the Future of Europe in a resolution of 15 January 2020. It considered that the Conference should aim ‘to adopt a bottom-up approach to engaging directly with citizens in a meaningful dialogue’ and that ‘in the long run, a permanent mechanism for engaging with the citizens in contemplating the future of Europe should be envisaged’.
The European Parliament ‘believes that citizens’ participation in the Conference process should be organised in such a way that the diversity of our societies is fully represented’ and ‘believes that ensuring youth participation will be an essential part of the long-lasting impacts of the Conference’.
Committing itself to a genuine follow-up to the Conference without delay, ‘with legislative proposals, initiating treaty change or otherwise’, the European Parliament ‘is of the opinion that a high-level patronage should be ensured by the three main EU institutions at the highest level’, believing that this ‘should guarantee the process and provide for its oversight all as well as kick off the Conference process’.
Additionally, to contribute to the design and structure of the Conference, the European Parliament created a working group, which will prepare proposals for Parliament’s approach to the organisation of the Conference. The working group is composed of one representative per political group, as well as a representative of Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs. At the same time, this committee has launched discussions on the way forward and on how to shape the structure and the scope of the Conference.
European Parliament’s proposals and debates
The Conference on the Future of Europe represents a more formalised and structured continuation of the series of initiatives towards institutional reforms that have been engaged in recent years.
The European Parliament adopted two resolutions in February 2017, proposing institutional adjustments on the European integration process. The first resolution suggested exploring the unused potential of the Lisbon Treaty. The second resolution envisaged more substantial changes to the institutional architecture.
Furthermore, the European Parliament has been organising plenary debates on the Future of Europe, inviting Heads of State or Government to publicly share their visions of the future of the European Union and engage in a debate with Members of Parliament in an open and constructive way. Since the beginning of 2018, several debates have already taken place. A synthesis of the speeches, prepared by the European Parliamentary Research Service, concludes a series of four briefings giving an overview of the Future of Europe debates (I – June 2018; II – October 2018; III – January 2019; IV – April 2019). All speakers considered that the challenges of the 21st century cannot be solved by EU countries acting individually and underlined the need for unity of the European Union. In its resolution of 13 February 2019 on the state of the debate of the future of Europe, the European Parliament underlined that ‘the Union must tackle the challenges of its future with greater and better political integration, with full respect for and promotion of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the democratic principles and by working together’.
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- Citizens to be the cornerstone of the Conference on the Future of Europe, European Parliament press release, 15 January 2020
- News headlines – Future of Europe, European Parliament
- Future of Europe, European Parliament Multimedia Centre
- The Future of Europe: Contours of the current debate, European Parliamentary Research Service, April 2018
- Unlocking the potential of the EU Treaties: An article-by-article analysis of the scope for action, European Parliamentary Research Service, January 2019