Highlight 13/2021 – The Conference on the Future of Europe: a window of opportunity to strengthen EU-level democracy
Mathilde Bargé, 8 April 2021
On the 10th March 2021, David Sassoli (European Parliament President), Ursula von der Leyen (Commission President) and, António Costa (Prime Minister of Portugal), on behalf of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union have signed the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The Conference will start on 9 May 2021, Europe Day, and will give European citizens the opportunity to express their expectations of European policies until spring 2022. This paves the way to launching a multitude of conference-events, panels and debates across the Union, as well as a multilingual digital platform. By giving European citizens a greater role in shaping EU policies and ambitions, the Conference can help to achieve a more effective and democratic European Union. Indeed, it will create a new public forum for an open, inclusive, transparent and structured debate bringing European citizens into the heart of policy making.
However, this exercise should not duplicate or replace existing legislative and policy-making processes but needs to complement them by offering a tool for true accountable citizen participation and dialogue with the institutions. That is why, the European Parliament, as the only EU institution directly elected by the citizens, should be at the core of the process, strongly supported by the European Commission and, the Council. Other EU institutions and agencies (e.g. the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the European Central Bank, Eurojust, the Ombudsman) should contribute to those thematic discussions where their expertise can be of use. National Parliaments, who often operate closest to the citizens, should have a strong role by bringing the Conference to the national level. Organized civil society and Social Partners should also be intimately involved in the governance, delivery and follow-up of the Conference, as equal partners of the institutions as they can reach a wider audience.
It is worth noting that the Conference on the future of Europe can contribute to solve the so-called EU democratic deficit, which refers to the perceived lack of accessibility and representation of the European citizen, and lack of accountability of European Union institutions. That is why in order to boost citizens’ trust in the EU, the outcome needs to receive a proper and reasoned response from all institutions in the immediate aftermath of the Conference. Thus, the three EU Institutions should commit themselves to turning the suggestions into legislative proposals while remaining open to potential treaty revisions. Nevertheless, any reforms that will come out of the Conference must be built on broad consensus among the EU institutions and European citizens. Therefore, the Conference could have a broad impact on Europe’s future, as it will underline how the decision-making process can be improved.
Mathilde BARGE, The Conference on the Future of Europe: a window of opportunity to strengthen EU-level democracy, Highlight 13/2021, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.