Thursday, 13 January 2022 21:21

French EU presidency has hope for Conference on Future of Europe

The EU needs to reflect on current mechanisms, legislation, and processes, and the ongoing Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) will not fail, a senior French official has said in a rare show of support for the fledgling democratic exercise.

Speaking to journalists during a press conference for the start of the French Presidency of the European Council, the official said that success is possible, but the task is not easy.

“The Conference on the Future of Europe will not be a failure,” he assured journalists.

The CoFoE is the EU’s democracy experiment where citizens take part in EU policy-making through a deliberative process. There are three levels of participation, including panels, a multilingual online platform for suggestions, and many events. Finally, the proposals from citizens will be presented to the European Parliament.

French President Emmanuel Macron has previously strongly supported CoFoE, and it is no coincidence that the experiment’s conclusion will occur during France’s presidency., though the French government did not include it among the priorities for its six-month presidency.

As reported by EURACTIV, the Conference has suffered from low media coverage and low numbers of participants on the multilingual platform, mainly due to the uneven efforts by member states in promoting it.

COVID set a precedent

Institutional reforms are needed, the French official argued. He said the COVID crisis had paved the way as from the start of 2020, the EU had been fast and successful in suspending rules, putting policy taboos aside, creating new instruments, and implementing the Recovery plan, among others.

The official said that the EU needed to reflect on making sure that crisis mechanisms are created, allowing the legislative procedure to be accelerated, and facilitating the availability of exceptional budgets.

He added that he was happy some countries had lifted their veto over treaty changes. This was previously highlighted as a potential stumbling block for CoFoE as many citizens’ proposals would require changes to treaties, something the EU institutions have been opposed to.

In his view, areas that require a majority vote should be reduced.

Conference on the Future of Europe

France did, however, complete its homework in delivering certain numbers of events over the last year.

The official gave an example: A report from French citizens, stemming from regional conferences that include 30 to 50 citizens from each region, the holding of a national conference to make sense of the proposals, and a consultation with 50,000 young people aged 15 to 30.

He also mentioned Germany and Belgium’s “very ambitious” consultation processes.

At the same time, he spoke critically of debates in the European Parliament, which in his words were too formal and “a succession of statements”.

In May, when proposals are set to be discussed, this would result in a European Parliament plenary report, sent to the presidents of the three European institutions, which in his words would be “too lengthy”. It will include all national exercises and debates, resulting in “hundreds of proposals”, he added.

Next steps

Taking the high number of proposals into account, the official suggested drafting a political roadmap for the future, before the end of the French Presidency, in which five to ten big subjects would be identified, on the basis of ideas “supported across the board in Europe”.

This would result, in his words, in “a few dozen” concrete projects on issues “such as climate, trade, values, rule of law”.

He said he could not prejudge the main themes, but in France, they were climate change, security and defence.