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Conference on the Future of Europe is taking shape

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Soazig de la Moissonnière

The time has finally come: on 9 May, Europe Day, the Conference on the Future of Europe will officially begin. It will last approximately one year, with results expected in Spring 2022.

First proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2019, the Conference will involve national, regional, and local governments, with events being held online and in person. Other bodies, like the Committee of Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, will also participate. An interactive multilingual digital platform will help to organise debates across the EU.

For the duration of the Conference, all subjects will be up for debate, including the strengthening of democratic decision-making processes at a European level. The aim is to “address challenges old and new, while strengthening European solidarity”, according to the joint declaration signed by the presidents of Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council. In it, the EU institutions also committed to “follow up on the recommendations made by the Conference”, including through legislation.

Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Basque MEP, named some priorities for the Conference, saying: “The most important reforms are to put an end to the unanimity rule, to strengthen the role and the capacity of the European Union by definitively solving the problem of its own resources and the harmonization of tax systems.”

The Conference will be led by an Executive Board made up of three representatives from each of the three European institutions, as well as up to four observers. The European Parliament is expected to be represented by Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP; Iratxe García, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats; and Guy Verhofstadt of Renew Europe. A Conference plenary will meet at least every six months, consisting of the institutions’ nine representatives plus representatives from national parliaments, citizens, and other stakeholders.

It remains to be seen whether the timing of the conference – with Europe still struggling to contain the pandemic, mitigate against its severe economic and social consequences and roll out vaccinations – will threaten the success of the Conference. It is also uncertain whether one year will be enough to tackle the structural problems that the EU suffers from.

Some of the EU’s greatest challenges over the past few years have been exacerbated by its weakened ability to tackle problems. Europe needs to strengthen its social dimension and its refugee and asylum policies, be more affirmative in its foreign and defence affairs, and ultimately reinforce its European values in order to take on a more prominent role globally. Therefore, the Conference on the Future of Europe is both a challenge and an opportunity for all Europeans to reaffirm their values - peace, freedom, social justice, equality - and to strengthen the EU’s position on the world stage.

The EDP is eager to participate in the Conference and to help strengthen the bottom-up processes at the heart of the EU through engaging ordinary citizens, academics, and local, regional, and national authorities alike. MEP Izaskun Bilbao Barandica: “If we believe in the European project, we should advance in a deep democratization of the Union and in making progress towards a Federal Europe. We need a Europe built from the ground up, in which diversity of languages and cultures is truly seen as an asset and a value, in a Europe which performs democratically and effectively.