Launched last spring upon the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, the Conference on the Future of Europe was an unprecedented move, materialized into a year of talks, debates and cooperation between citizens and politicians
This ample exercise of citizen consultations ended up with a report based on 49 proposals including concrete objectives and over 320 measures that citizens believe that the EU institutions must pursue. The proposals reflect the expectations of European citizens on nine topics: a stronger economy, social justice and jobs; Education, culture, youth and sport; Digital transformation; European democracy; Values and rights, rule of law, security; Climate change, environment; Health; the EU in the world; and migration.
"Citizens - especially young people - are at the heart of our vision for the future of Europe. They have directly shaped the outcome of the Conference. We are at a defining moment of European integration and no suggestion for change should be off-limits. We should not be afraid to unleash the power of Europe to change people's lives for the better" Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament said in Strasbourg, on May 9th. On that day together with president Macron on behalf of the Council's Presidency and with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, she received the final report on the conference's outcome.
" Your message has been well received. And now, it is time to deliver." Ursula von der Leyen told the participants. She also pledged new proposals in her state-of-the-union address on September 3rd.
The conference on the future of Europe proved that citizens are asking for more transparency, more inclusion, sustainability and security.
The European citizens want the 27-nation bloc more fair, supportive and to play a leading role in fighting climate change.
Some proposals such as granting the right of legislative initiative to the European Parliament, a fact requested by it, or the extension of the EU's defence or health powers entails a change in the treaties. And the European Parliament, convened in plenary session in Strasbourg, has already endorsed a resolution calling for the launch of a procedure of revising the EU treaties in order to respond to the requests made during the conference.
During the debates, several MEPs said that citizens need to be more involved with a stronger demographic representation at the Union level. Others have drawn attention to specific areas where citizen-oriented proposals require profound changes, including real European elections as well as new EU competences in fields such as health, energy, migration and defence.
Some speakers have criticized the Conference on the Future of Europe, saying the process is faulty and the proposals do not reflect the public opinion.
French president Emmanuel Macron has also spoken in the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The principle of unanimous vote should be abandoned in some fields or politics, he said adding that there is a need for a reform of the European documents and treaties in order to make them more effective.
Countries that oppose this prospect say that the citizens' proposals 'must not be instrumentalized to serve special institutional interests'. 'We already have a functional Europe' as the Covid-19 pandemic has proved as well as its response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and we must not rush to institutional reforms' they have cautioned. Romania and eleven other countries have joined a non-paper initiated by Denmark, which doesn't rule out any options at this stage but also does not support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards treaty changes, which hasn't been an objective of the conference in the first place.
President Emmanuel Macron has launched a real challenge before the European Parliament for the entire continent; instead of lowering EU standards for allowing some states to join the union, a European Political Community should be created. This new structure will allow all democratic countries including the UK and Ukraine to share the basic European principles, Macron says
Emmanuel Macron: "This issue remains pending - how we should organize Europe from a political point of view which goes beyond the European Union? It is our historic duty to find answers to this question today and create what I would call before you a European Political Community. This new organization will allow the European democratic nations to join our basic values and together find out a new area of cooperation in the fields of politics, security, energy, transports, infrastructure investment and the movement of persons, particularly the young people."
"I will always be on the side of those who want to reform the European Union to make it work better," von der Leyen said in Strasbourg at the end of the Conference on the Future of Europe. "The point is, you have told us where you want this Europe to go. And it is now up to us to take the most direct way there, either by using the full limits of what we can do within the Treaties, or, yes, by changing the Treaties if need be," von der Leyen said.