The Time is Now - 2/2021

In the health domain the EU needs more powers and competences and that may necessitate treaty change. That would be important and I am always open to treaty change

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

1. The Citizens’ Platform

After over a year of intra-institutional infighting, lots of fine-tuning, vague goals, a postponed start and yet undecided physical formats, the digital platform of the Conference on the Future of Europe was finally launched on Monday 19 April.

The platform provides a digital space for citizens to interact and exchange ideas on how they see the future of Europe, and directly feeds in the Conference’s panel discussions.

Following a bottom-up approach, the platform will be the central hub of the Conference, bringing together all citizens’ contribution. To allow for a truly pan-European discussion, it will be available in all 24 EU official languages through immediate translation.

In keeping with the inter-institutional nature of the Conference, the platform was launched in a joint press conference  with the three co-chairs of the Conference’s Executive Board: Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, MEP Guy Verhofstadt, and Portuguese Secretary of State Ana Paula Zacarias.

The Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt pointed out the symbolic significance of the launch: a day after the 70th anniversary of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the supranational organisation created after World War II that is now considered the embryo of the European Union.

Platform users have to abide by a  Conference Charter  to ensure a respectful and inclusive exchange of ideas. 

As a citizen-led exercise, the platform will be open to all European citizens who are interested in joining an event, exchanging ideas or organising an event to discuss what should be the EU positions on the nine key topics.

The selection of the most relevant ideas discussed on the platform will be powered by artificial intelligence and these ideas will then feed into the citizens’ panel discussions that will be one of the building blocks of the conference.

The European Commission is committed to following up on whatever request might be made by the European citizens, hence not excluding a possible charge of the Treaties. If successful, the online platform might become a permanent public consultation tool.

The interactive platform will stimulate discussion. Regular panels will be regularly organised between citizens, experts, elected representatives and other stakeholders to analyse and reflect on the ideas and recommendations. The main proposals will be then brought to the conference's high body, the plenary, for final consideration.

You can have your say on the future of the European Union  here

UEF has been the first political organization to submit a  proposal  in the platform. 

2. Citizen’s Panels

At the third meeting of the Executive Board, the representatives of the European Parliament, Council of the EU and the European Commission endorsed the Conference’s Rules of Procedure regarding the European citizens' panels, and in relation to the Principles and the Scope of the Conference.

Each panel will comprise 200 citizens and will ensure that at least one female and one male citizen per Member State is included. Citizens will be chosen randomly to set up panels that are representative of the EU’s diversity, in terms of geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and level of education. Young people between 16 and 25 will make up one-third of each panel.

3. The Conference Launching Event

The event formally launching the Conference on the Future of Europe on Europe Day (9 May) is set to be a ‘hybrid’ of online and physical participation because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It will be broadcasted live, and will feature remote citizen participation.

The Conference launching event will be chaired by the Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, because he holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU until 30 June, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. 

The grand opening of the Conference on the Future of Europe will feature the French President Emmanuel Macron as the first speaker, as president of the host country of the European Parliament’s Strasbourg seat. 

4. Youth Ideas

The Youth Outreach Unit of the European Parliament has built an  online platform  where you can outline your own ideas on the issues that Europe is facing today and your ideas for the Europe of tomorrow. The aim of the platform is to make it easier for youth to participate actively in the CoFoE.

5. Merkel Open to Treaty Changes

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday 21st April that she would be open to making changes to the EU's founding treaties, particularly in the area of health policy, and urged the bloc to find ways to make its foreign policy more efficient.

"I believe that Europe needs more competencies in the area of health. This will probably also require changes to the treaties," Merkel said at an event organized by the European People's Party, which discussed potential EU reforms that could also come up as part of the  Conference on the Future of Europe

The chancellor also reiterated  previous calls  for reforming EU treaties in the area of competition policy to facilitate the creation of so-called European champions that can compete with bigger rivals from China or the U.S. Merkel said the EU could also reform the way it makes decisions on certain policies to make the process more efficient, such as by changing the threshold for approval from unanimity to a qualified majority. On foreign policy, Merkel said that “unanimity can also be abandoned on certain issues." 

The EU committees of the French National Assembly and the German Bundestag demanded that the plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, gets the final say over what makes the cut — not its executive board in a  joint statement

6. What’s next?

Following the launch of the multilingual digital platform enabling all European Union (EU) citizens to participate in the Future of Europe Conference, The Commissioner for Democracy and Demography Dubravca Šuica pointed to “awareness raising” as “the next big step”.

“The platform allows citizens to start getting involved now, without further delay. After this morning, we have over 3,000 contributions on the platform, which means it is a good tool in times of pandemic”.

The next meeting of the Executive Board is scheduled to take place on 9 May in Strasbourg. Nevertheless, additional meetings might still be scheduled in the weeks before.