Seize the Moment! Virtual Event prior to the Start of the CoFoE
With some delay, the Conference on the Future of Europe started on Europe Day, 9 May 2021. Within the next year, the European Union invites citizens from all Member States to share their ideas on key priorities and challenges in public debates and discussion series and to help shape the future of the EU.
Shortly before its launch, the Charlemagne Prize Foundation, together with EUROPE DIRECT Aachen and with participation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, organised a digital event on Thursday 6 May to discuss expectations from various perspectives prior to this initiative by gathering key players from the participating institutions and young voices from academia and the public. The event was simultaneously translated into German and English and moderated by the presenter of the ARD-Europamagazin, Hendrike Brenninkmeyer. There was an integrated chat where many questions were submitted and addressed in detail in the discussion rounds.
After an impulse statement by Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Gunther Krichbaum, Chairman of the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union of the German Bundestag, and Prof. Federico Fabbrini, former Fellow of the Charlemagne Prize Academy, the first panel focussed on possible structural and institutional reforms. The three panel members saw solidarity among the EU states as a central challenge and indicated that the key question will be to what extent the EU will have the courage to tackle essential reforms of the constitutional and institutional set-up in the near future.
Federico Fabbrini outlined a current decade of crises in the EU and sees the Conference on the Future of Europe as a great opportunity to advance structural reforms, though this would require political leadership (from individuals) and legal ingenuity. Since changes to the EU treaties would have to be adopted unanimously by all member states (which is not likely), a "political compact" with its own rules could possibly take the EU further, even without completely changing the EU treaties.
Gunther Krichbaum noted that in addition to the political willingness to change, whereby Germany has clearly emphasised its openness to the results, the initiative's success would also depend on a clear process of acceptance for the proposals that will be handed in by the European people. Deciding on the public's ideas behind closed doors would be a fatal mistake.
The potential of the Conference on the Future of Europe has been widely discussed and worked on, also in the course of the Charlemagne Prize Fellowships. Regarding the Joint Declaration of the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission in the run-up to the Future Conference, Federico has published an academic assessment which you can read here.
In the second panel, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Dubravka Šuica, provided an inspiring impulse statement, in which she stated that politics can not longer be business as usual. “Democracy itself is not static and constantly evolves. Politicians and decision-makers must evolve along with it. We must make our democracy fit for the future.”
Looking at the democratic process in the context of the conference, considering the tangibility and the actual inclusion of citizens' ideas in the future decision-making process, the MEP from Aachen, Daniel Freund, the Secretary General of the Europa Union Germany, Christian Moos, and the Academy Fellow Sophie Pornschlegel, focused their discussion primarily on the civil society perspective.
As a member of the EESC, Christian Moos declared his conviction that the European population was ready for a new sense of community. Challenged by economic and social divisions, they are currently sharing the suffering of the pandemic, which lets a new European narrative emerge. In the course of this, the conference must be more than a consultation exercise. Daniel Freund, who has been part of the initiative's set-up in the European Parliament's Working Group, sees the conference even as a new step towards integration and says that where there is no common course of action and solutions – where integration has stalled in the past - that is where crises have developed.
In order to achieve broad citizen participation, all speakers argued for a clear signal that would be needed to ensure that the best ideas of the conference will be implemented in the end. However, the initiative still lacks political support in many national governments and the joint objective seems to be still unclear.
When we look back at some point, how will we perceive the results? Will this initiative be a European game changer of historical impact?
From now on, all Europeans are invited to actively participate in the conference process and contribute ideas via https://futureu.europa.eu/
In a year's time, it will become clear what this initiative has achieved and what will ultimately develop from it. The sails are set, the expectations high. Will Europe seize this moment?