Involving citizens in shaping the future of Europe

CEC European Managers welcomes the European Commission’s announcement on the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe, to be started on Europe Day (9 May). Under the condition that the Conference will be sufficiently inclusive and that citizen’s and social partner’s opinions effectively translate into concrete policies, this format promises to be an enrichment for European democracy.

Last Wednesday, 22 January the European Commission published a communication presenting its vision on the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe. In the intention of the Commission, the Conference will be organized around two main pillars (EU priorities and institutional change) and will have to deliver its conclusions by mid-2022. Symbolically, the beginning of its activities is expected on Europe Day this year (9 May). Announced by President von der Leyen as a way to offer EU citizens a “framework” to exercise that renewed belief in the European democracy shown by the rise in the turnout of the last EU elections, the conference will be established on the basis of a joint effort of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

In its communication, the European Commission focuses on the aspect of people’s participation in the Conference. In a context where the political discourse becomes more complicated, and the readability of public action more difficult, reducing the distance between citizens and institutions can be an effective tool to counter extremisms. We therefore welcome this sensibility towards a meaningful involvement of citizens. The experience with the successful European Citizens’ Initiative offers an effective starting basis. It will be necessary however to avoid an over-complicated structural framework of the Conference, as to counter  the perception (that already many EU citizens share) that the EU institutional mechanism is too articulated to be understood properly. Furthermore, it has to be clear how the outcomes of the Conference translate into concrete proposals to avoid creating more distrust towards the EU.

The reflection above is closely associated with the outreach aspect. Communicating correctly the objectives, structures and – most importantly – the actual impact that the conclusions of the Conference can have in the context of the current EU institutional framework is a precondition for a successful conference. Respecting the Treaties and the legal provisions set by them defining the respective competences of the various bodies and levels in which the EU is articulated is a fundamental principle, that must be defended from any attempt to oversimplify the institutional game.

One final observation concerns the identification of the actors invited in the process. As European social partner organization, deeply involved in the practice of social dialogue as a tool to advance social Europe and increase the alignment between economic results and socio-environmental objectives, CEC would like to stress the need for a specific role of social partners in the functioning of the Conference. Social partners are the only expression of organized civil society that is mentioned in the EU Treaties and whose involvement in the legislative process is a legal obligation for EU institutions to respect; we expect this specificity to be duly take into account in the future developments of this initiative.