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Abstract

As per Joint Declaration, the Conference on the Future of Europe will end with a report to the Joint Presidency in spring 2022. All institutions and member states have pledged to follow up with the report swiftly and effectively. Despite agreeing on the Declaration and the Conference Rules of Procedure, however, the institutions and member states continue to have very different ambitions and expectations for the Conference and its desired outcome. Hence, there are doubts as to how comprehensive its results can be under the agreed process and how consequently they will be followed up after the Conference’s end.

This paper analyses the chances and obstacles for the Conference to lead to concrete reform – and propose concrete solutions to ensure the promised outcome. By analysing lessons learned from previous experiences of citizens’ participation, the Conference’s setup as well as the political environment, the author identifies crucial roadblocks that need to be solved for a successful outcome and draws up the necessary next steps that should follow the Conference to translate its promise of a swift and effective follow up into reality.

1. Introduction

Initially an idea put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron,[1] a Conference on the Future of Europe was announced by Ursula von der Leyen in her speech outlining political guidelines before the European Parliament in June 2019. As part of her pledge, President von der Leyen emphasised that her Commission would be ‘ready to follow up on what is agreed [in the Conference], including by legislative action, if appropriate’.[2] Her College and other EU institutions later renewed the promise to properly follow up on the results of the Conference. But now that the Conference has started, what can we expect in terms of outcome and action?

Conference on the Future of Europe
The Conference on the Future of Europe kickstarted on May 9, 2021 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Joint Declaration and the Conference Rules of Procedure merely outline that the Conference’s conclusions will take the form of a final report to the Joint Presidency of the Conference, Commission President von der Leyen, Parliament President Sassoli and the Council Presidency. European institutions will afterwards ‘examine swiftly how to follow up effectively to this report, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties’.[3] The documents therefore only set broad guidelines for what the outcome should look like. Clearly, this is connected to the bottom-up approach of the Conference: European institutions have established a process that is as open as possible for citizens to have their say.

This paper analyses what can be expected from the Conference conclusions and their repercussions, identifies crucial roadblocks that need to be solved for a successful outcome, and draws up the necessary next steps that should follow the Conference to translate its promise of swift and effective action into reality. To this end, the analysis will draw on three pillars. Firstly, the paper will look at previous experiences of citizen participation, define parallels with and differences from the Conference and, on that basis, draw conclusions about the ongoing process. This will be followed by an in-depth analysis of the Conference’s legal texts and governance. This part will in particular analyse what the Conference setup could mean for the outcome of the process. Lastly, the paper will take into consideration the positions among institutions that have emerged over recent months as well as the political environment, such as the consequences of the German federal election. The final section will draw conclusions and formulate recommendations on how to translate the Conference’s outcomes into tangible results.

2. Lessons from previous experience of citizen participation

The idea of discusing  European issues with citizens is not new. Over the past decade or so, European institutions have established a rich history of including citizens in decision-making. In 2005, the Commission put into place Plan D (Democracy, Dialogue, Debate), launching debates in all EU Member States. Following the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the initiative aimed ‘to build a new political consensus about the right policies to equip Europe to meet the challenges of the 21st Century’.[4] The EU’s involvement in citizens participation activities is therefore a direct consequence of the lessons learned from the Constitutional process. Many further initiatives followed that were aimed at giving citizens a voice at the European level, such as the Europe for Citizens Programme (2007), Debate Europe (2008), the Citizens’ Dialogues (2012–present), the White Paper on the Future of Europe (2017), the European Citizens’ Consultations (ECCs) (2018) and the first ‘European Citizens’ Panel on the future of Europe’ (2018).[5]

Although none of these initiatives went as far as the Conference does now, there are many lessons the Conference can learn from these trial-and-error processes. Because whereas all these initiatives were successful in their common goal to debate EU policy issues with citizens, none of them have led to concrete results. So, what are the key roadblocks in terms of sufficient output that emerge from these previous initiatives which the Conference needs to overcome to reach a tangible end result?

Ownership: All the above-mentioned historical precedents of citizen participation were initiated each time by one single European institution, which received remarkably little attention from other institutional actors. For example, the Citizens’ Dialogues are a recurring element of the Commission’s work on citizen participation, but they fail to contribute to the political debate on an institutional level in Parliament or the Council. Whereas Juncker’s White Paper process was more successful in this respect, his initiative similarly failed to deliver concrete reforms. The ECCs, on the other hand, were initiated and run by Member States in the Council. Although they ended with a report to the European Council, its findings were never pursued by any institution.[6]

This time around, however, things are different. For the first time, all institutions have endorsed the endeavour and have committed to following up effectively on citizens’ recommendations. European institutions and Member States will organise parallel participatory events on local, regional, national, and transnational levels, and all of them will feed into the same process, into one Conference outcome.[7] This joint ownership has the potential to lead to concrete results, including political reform.

Overall process: The Conference’s process is far more developed than any other participatory endeavour taken on before by European institutions. There will be parallel participatory activities on local, regional, national, and transnational levels, both on- and offline, organised by institutions, Member States, and civil society alike. A ‘central feature’ of the Conference are the four European Citizens’ Panels, which involve a total of 800 citizens from all Member States, randomly selected to deliberate on the core topics of the Conference. They will also come up with recommendations that will contribute to the Plenaries and the final report. This is what makes the Conference so distinct: for the first time, there is a clear connection between the citizens’ dimension and representative bodies. Citizens will not only debate among one another: 108 citizens will also be part of the Conference Plenary. Debates in the Plenaries will furthermore be based on citizens’ recommendations, and the final outcome will draw directly from them. Citizens’ voices are therefore truly central in the Conference makeup. This direct link between citizens’ and representative dimensions are a response to the lack of implementation in previous participatory experiments on the European level.

Purpose: On the other hand,  the Conference lacks a clear objective shared by all institutions. The Joint Declaration is therefore very vague when it comes to the objectives of the endeavour. A ‘new space for debate with citizens to address Europe’s challenges and priorities’,[8] the Conference will give citizens a say in European policymaking, according to the founding document. The outset seems rather policy-focused, mentioning ten policy areas and several cross-cutting issues that can be addressed. A targeted and clearly described goal is missing, however. This is despite the fact that the European Citizens’ Consultations have shown that the clearer the objective and the narrower the subject, the more focused and more detailed the result will be. Experience with the ECCs has ‘demonstrated that long-term and in-depth discussions on very specific, and potentially controversial, questions result in detailed outcomes that governments can make good use of in policymaking’.[9] To facilitate this process, ‘it helps to know what the goal is’ from the outset. The Conference’s vague objective could therefore be counterproductive to achieving concrete results.

3. What kind of output is planned, and how do we get there?

But how do we get to the final outcome, and which roadblocks does the Conference process entail? The Conference outcome will take the form of a final report to the Joint Presidency of the Conference, Commission President von der Leyen, Parliament President Sassoli, and the Council Presidency.[10]

To get there, the European Citizens’ Panels, national panels, and the Multilingual Platform will present conclusions and recommendations to the Conference Plenary, where they will be debated with representatives and citizens alike. On that basis and ‘without a predetermined outcome and without limiting the scope to pre-defined policy areas’,[11] the Plenary will agree on its proposals. These proposals will be agreed upon by consensus ‘at least between the representatives of the European Parliament, the Council, the European Commission, as well as representatives from national Parliaments, on an equal footing’ and will be delivered to the Executive Board.[12] Although there is no provision that forces the Plenary to adopt citizens’ recommendations, the Rules of Procedure state that any diverging positions from citizens’ recommendations shall be expressed in the Plenary conclusions.

Yet the Executive Board has the final say when it comes to drafting the Conference outcome. The Board, again on a consensual basis, will draft both Plenary conclusions and, based on these, draft and agree upon the final report.[13]

Following the report, the ‘three institutions will examine swiftly how to follow up effectively to this report, each within their own sphere of competences and in accordance with the Treaties’.[14] Institutions are clearly committed to taking into account the recommendations of citizens and the Conference Plenary and have repeated this commitment in several speeches and remarks,[15] although there is no strict and binding follow-up mechanism.

But what will that mean concretely for the type of outcome we can expect from the process? Four general observations—two positive and two negative factors—can be made in this regard.

Firstly, we can assess that there is a clear link between the participatory and the representative dimensions of the Conference, at least on the European level. Citizens will debate in European Citizens’ Panels and come up with recommendations for the representative dimension, the Conference Plenary. The Plenary will structure its debates according to citizens’ input, and the citizens themselves will be part of the Plenary to present, debate, and defend their ideas. Any deviation from citizens’ recommendations on the part of the Plenary outcome will have to be noted. This presents a strong and unprecedented link between citizens and policymakers, which will ensure that citizens’ voices are actually taken into account. We can therefore count on citizens’ ideas making it into the reports of the Plenary, as well as the final report. However, this characterisation only fits at the European level of participatory elements. On the national and local levels, Member States can decide for themselves whether they will organise national citizens’ panels or any other kind of participatory events.[16] This, of course, removes comparability among Member States and will leave any insights from national events, which the Plenary will discuss, incomplete and potentially biased.[17] It is also unclear who exactly will represent Member State citizens’ events in the Plenary. The strong link between the participatory and representative levels is therefore watered down for these elements.

Secondly, the Conference is a joint effort by all European institutions, with all actors committing to following up on its outcomes. The consensus principle in the Conference Plenary and the Executive Board will furthermore ensure that the final result of the Conference is supported by all actors that will later have to implement the recommendations. This creates clear ownership among everyone involved in the process. Any output should therefore have high chances of being implemented by the respective institutions and at the relevant levels.

On the other hand, however, this high decision-making threshold brings one clearly dangerous element into the outcome of the process. A consensus requirement among so many actors—for the Conference Plenary, three European institutions, and national parliaments totalling 273 representatives; and nine representatives of all three European institutions for the Executive Board—greatly increases the risk of blockages. In the worst-case scenario, this could lead to institutions not being able to agree on a final outcome at all for months. But even in a less drastic scenario, it might lead to a situation where the final outcome will be a very general, lowest common denominator report in the form of only very abstract recommendations that will, as a result, be difficult for institutions to follow up on at all. Citizens’ recommendations might become watered down to the extent that Panel participants do not see themselves reflected in the outcome. We have witnessed the same problem in the process of agreeing on a Joint Declaration, when it took months for institutions to agree on a joint mandate for the Conference, which in the end could only be found through silence on many of the sticking points that remain unresolved today. Such half-baked solutions need to be avoided at all costs for the final report of the Conference to achieve an outcome in which citizens can see themselves represented and ensure proper follow-up, based on joint ownership among all institutions.

Another potential problem is that it is still unclear what form of outcome we can expect. The Conference documents only speak of a final report, which will be handed over to the Joint Presidency. But it remains unclear what the report will look like. Will it be a summary of the discussions in the Panels and Plenary? Will it restate citizens’ recommendations in the form of a ‘wish list’? Or will it outline an elaborated action plan for European institutions, with clear responsibilities and steps for follow-up? In doing so, will the report be policy oriented, summarising the main policy outcomes, or will it go a step further by coming up with a joint vision or narrative of the Conference for the Future of the EU, or even develop a new ‘mission statement’ for the Union of the future? As the answers to these questions remain unclear, it will be difficult for either the Plenary or Executive Board to enter into discussions and prepare this output. The longer they remain unclear, the higher the chance of ending up with a document that is not concrete and that cannot be followed up on in detail.

4. The political environment

Ultimately, however, the Conference is a political process. Hence, it will be the political actors and the political environment that will determine how ambitious the outcome and how thorough its repercussions will be. This section will therefore look at the actors’ commitment to the Conference, the role of the Franco-German engine in the process, and possible diverging positions among institutions and Member States.

4.1 Actors’ commitment

Although the Conference is an inter-institutional initiative, the commitment to and ambitions for its outcome vary greatly between institutions. The European Parliament is the most committed and most ambitious actor in the debate around the Conference. From the start, the Parliament has positioned itself as the most vocal supporter. It was the first institution to agree on a joint position towards the Conference on 15 January 2020, and its position towards objectives, citizens’ involvement, commitments, and possible treaty change is undoubtedly the most far-reaching out of the three institutions.[18] The Parliament has reinforced its position with several additional resolutions referring to the Conference or updating the institution’s position to new (COVID-19) circumstances. This commitment continued throughout the negotiations on the Joint Declaration and is still ongoing during the Conference itself.

Likewise, the Commission seems fairly committed to the Conference. After all, it was Commission President von der Leyen who initiated the Conference. In fact, the Commission’s services were heavily involved in preparing for the Conference, especially with a view to its citizens’ dimension. President von der Leyen and her Commission have repeatedly renewed their commitment to the Conference and its outcome. Most recently, she repeated her pledge to implement the recommendations put forward by the Conference in her 2021 State of the European Union address.[19] However, it was the only reference to the Conference in her hour-long speech. More generally, it seems that the Conference no longer plays a big role at the Commission’s political level.[20] Although this is certainly related to other, more pressing crises such as COVID-19 taking centre stage in the current political environment, this trend is worrying due to the Commission’s central role in acting upon the results of the Conference. As the only institution with right of initiative, the Commission will be measured against its enduring pledges to take action following the Conference’s conclusions.

But the most ambivalent relationship with the Conference certainly has to be that of the Council. Most governments have a rather lukewarm relationship with the Conference, seen by many as a necessary evil. This is also why the Council was the last institution to adopt a position on the Conference, and it was by far the least ambitious. As such, Member States have followed a policy-first approach, emphasising that the EU’s current treaties already effectively address today’s challenges.[21] Treaty reform is therefore out of the question. Initially, the Council also intended, in their position, to leave the follow-up of the Conference entirely in the hands of the European Council—a method that during the ECCs failed to lead to change. Although there are certainly states that do support far-reaching European reform and are committed to the Conference, no matter its outcome,[22] commitment among the majority of Member States is rather low.

All in all, commitments towards the Conference vary among European institutions, with the European Parliament clearly being the most invested actor, while the Council seems least committed to a successful outcome.

4.2 The (potential) Franco-German problem

As in the past, Europe will need strong commitment from both France and Germany, the EU’s biggest Member States, if the Conference is to end with concrete results. Especially due to the ambivalent stance of other countries towards the Conference, great effort on the part of the EU’s Franco-German engine will be necessary to translate outcomes into reforms.

As father of the idea of a Conference on the Future of Europe, President Macron has always been one of the Conference’s biggest supporters. The fact that he will be part of its Joint Presidency in the first half of 2022, when the Conference will draw to a close, should enable Paris to play a crucial role in steering the Conference towards a tangible result.

But French commitment will not be enough. Macron ‘cannot steer the Conference to success single-handedly without an ambitious German counterpart. The Conference can only lead to worthwhile results if the next German federal government and the successor of Angela Merkel will back the process. And Paris and Berlin will have to push in the same direction if the recommendations from the Final Report are to be translated into concrete actions and reforms at the EU level.’[23]

Yet with public attention in Germany fully focused on the search for a new government, the Conference has already been relegated to a non-event. The Merkel government has also announced that national citizens’ panels are not planned during this legislative term—and thus also not likely to happen until a new government takes office.[24] ‘And with the European Citizens’ Panels starting tomorrow [in September] and debates in the Conference Plenary scheduled to commence in October, the Conference will gain momentum while Germany is in full election mode. (…) The political recalibration of German politics will thus take time – time the Conference does not have.’[25] Therefore, there is a real danger that not only will the Conference remain a non-event in Germany but also that Macron will possibly be lacking a German partner with ownership of the process and a commitment to steering the results of the Conference towards concrete reforms.

4.3 Ongoing differences

From the outset, European institutions have had very different understandings about what the Conference should be. These differences have been most prominent between the Council and the European Parliament and mainly refer to the objective, the role of citizens, and the content, leadership, and repercussions of the Conference.[26] For a long time, it was unclear whether the underlying objective of institutions would be focused on delivering actual policy results or raising awareness about the EU, in other words a communication exercise.[27] For example, whereas the Council followed a clear ‘policy-first approach’, rejecting treaty change, both the Parliament and the Commission have had the topic of institutional reform high on their political agendas for the Conference, a topic that the Council has wanted to avoid at all costs.

These different understandings of the Conference’s purpose remain unchanged despite the agreement on a Joint Declaration. Even at the event marking the signature of the Joint Declaration by the three institutions, Parliament President Sassoli and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who at that time held the rotating presidency of the Council, delivered different accounts of what the Conference should be about. Costa underlined the policy-first approach of the Council in his speech,[28] whereas Sassoli outlined that it ‘is essential that this exercise leads to concrete actions, legislative changes, treaty changes, if this is desired and desirable’.[29] He emphasised that ‘no taboos’ should exist when discussing these issues—clearly targeting the Council’s policy-only approach to the Conference. Despite the Joint Declaration, European institutions are clearly not entirely on the same page when it comes to the objectives of the endeavour. However, to lead to a concrete result and to manage citizens’ expectations effectively, institutions need a joint understanding of the goal of the exercise. A vague mission statement that seeks to cover up fundamental differences among institutions as to what the objective should be puts the whole process, and most importantly any concrete output, at risk.

Apart from the objective, political tensions between institutions could also endanger the process. On the level of the Executive Board, tensions are already putting constraints on the day-to-day management and strategic planning of the Conference. On several occasions, representatives of the European Parliament, Council, and national parliaments have clashed,[30] paralysing the functioning of the Board. Most prominently, persisting tensions between the members of the Board in the context of agreeing on the Rules of Procedure reportedly endangered the Conference’s official launch on 9 May 2021.[31] This continued political infighting could become increasingly problematic as the Conference process evolves. It is only a matter of time until these conflicts reach the policy debates. And by the time this already highly politicized atmosphere starts to involve those policy issues that remain controversial among institutions, such as institutional and treaty reform, the danger of tensions within the Executive Board paralysing the process will not have gone away—particularly because of the consensus rule in the Board’s working methods.

This danger is also relevant to the Conference Plenary, where not only inter-institutional but also party-political manoeuvring will be observed. Here, too, the need for consensus coupled with unreconcilable political and institutional camps could very well paralyse the process as the Plenary moves towards its decision-making phase. Strong leadership will be needed to find an agreement on a joint outcome for the future of Europe and, equally important, to translate this outcome into concrete reforms.

Conference of the Future of Europe - Johannes Greubel
.

5. Conclusions and recommendations

European institutions have come a long way to get the Conference on the Future of Europe started. Now their foremost goal should be to steer it towards a successful outcome. They have drawn important lessons from previous exercises in citizens’ participation, but several roadblocks remain that will make it a rocky road for the Conference to travel along to deliver a tangible outcome that will be effectively acted upon by all institutions. The consensus rules in the Executive Board and the Plenary, coupled with a vague objective and an unfavourable political environment, are the biggest hurdles in this respect.

But how can the Conference still become a successful endeavour that leads to reforms, despite these roadblocks? The following recommendations may guide the way.

The co-chairs of the Executive Board will be key actors in steering the Conference towards a successful outcome.  A proactive and strong chair was a crucial factor during the Convention on the Future of Europe in 2002, when former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing prepared the way for the Constitutional Treaty. It was his political finesse, a clear understanding of the political environment, and a precise vision of the final outcome that made this successful outcome possible.[32] A similar role must be assumed by the three co-chairs of the Conference. This process needs to be taken forward with the inclusion of the Executive Board, but it should still be predominantly driven by the co-chairs. They should, ideally already involving the French government,[33] develop a clear understanding of the process, a political strategy for the months ahead and, most importantly, a clear idea of the final report—in other words, have a vision for steering the process towards a defined destination.

Ideally, the report will be framed by a captivating narrative of European renewal, based on the citizens’ vision. It should include concrete recommendations for each policy area, including an action plan for all institutions that outlines steps for further action. Clear steps towards successful implementation of this action plan will also contribute to turning the consensus problem into an advantage. With the Executive Board and thus all institutions endorsing this plan, institutions may assume clear ownership of reform. If this is the case, the chances of implementing the action plan will be high.

In the end, however, a successful outcome and follow-up hinges on the political pressure that the Conference can build up in the upcoming months. The more political pressure placed on European institutions and Member State governments there is, the better the chance for concrete steps and reforms. Three aspects will be key in creating this political pressure.

  • The critical roadblock for reform lies within the Council, in those Member States that see the Conference as a necessary evil. Relieving it requires political pressure from within the Council to ensure follow-up on the part of Member States. Strong leadership will be needed to translate this outcome into concrete reforms. This  must include above all France and Germany, but also other Member States who support the process. Upcoming post-Conference Council Presidencies need to make implementing the Conference’s outcome an integral part of their programme. Only in this way can the translation of the final report into reforms be possible. Ultimately, however, this needs to go hand in hand with an ambitious Commission, which needs to fulfil its pledge of thorough implementation, as it holds the single right of initiative at the European level.
  • The recommendations of the Plenaries and the final report alike need to closely reflect the  ideas that will be brought forward in the European and national Citizens’ Panels. Only with this direct link between the participatory and representative dimensions can the process create sufficient pressure to lead to reform. If this link is missing, and citizens do not find themselves reflected in the outcome of the Conference, the process will backfire and create more dissatisfaction with politicians and institutions—an outcome all involved actors will want to avoid.
  • Ultimately, this pressure function linked to citizens’ expectations can be increased alongside greater public awareness of the process. The more people know about the Conference, the higher the pressure will be to make it successful. And the more citizens contribute, the more legitimacy the outcome will have, and the more pressure will be directed towards policymakers. Broad dissemination and participation in the Conference will therefore be in the interest of the Conference leadership, so that it can create a process with the best possible chances of success.

Although there are serious roadblocks, there still is a path to reform in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe. But the foundations for a successful outcome need to be laid now. Institutions and co-chairs in particular must assume immediate leadership to steer the way towards a successful outcome and follow-up from the Conference.

If you want to read more about the Conference and the Future of Europe and other relevant EU topics, feel free to check this other Future of Europe Journal article on the topic of accession here.

References

Alander, M., von Ondarza, N., & Russack, S. (eds) (2021). ‘Managed expectations: EU Member States’ views on the Conference on the Future of Europe’. Berlin: EPIN, https://epin.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Managed-Expectations-EU-Member-States%E2%80%99-Views-on-the-Conference-on-the-Future-of-Europe.pdf.

Butcher, P., & Stratulat, C. (2019). ‘Citizens expect: Lessons from the European Citizens’ Consultations’. Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/Citizens-expect-Lessons-from-the-European-Citizens-Consultations~26c3d4.

Conference on the Future of Europe (2021a). ‘Guidance for National Citizens’ Panels in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe’. Brussels, https://futureu.europa.eu/uploads/decidim/attachment/file/10231/Guidance_for_national_panels_EB260521.pdf.

Conference on the Future of Europe (2021b). ‘Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe’. Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/en_-_joint_declaration_on_the_conference_on_the_future_of_europe.pdf.

Conference on the Future of Europe (2021c). ‘Rules of Procedure of the Conference on the Future of Europe’. Brussels, https://futureu.europa.eu/uploads/decidim/attachment/file/9340/sn02700.en21.pdf.

Costa, A. (2021). ‘Speech at the signing ceremony of the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe’. 10 March, Brussels, https://www.2021portugal.eu/media/quvd4zsp/20210310_speech_prime-minister_en.pdf.

Council of the EU (2020). ‘Conference on the Future of Europe: Council position’. 9102/20, 24 June, Brussels, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/44679/st09102-en20.pdf.

De la Baume, M. (2021). ‘It’s on: Conference on EU’s future will still launch after power-sharing deal’. 7 May, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/conference-on-the-future-of-europe-power-sharing-deal-launch/.

Deutscher Bundestag (2021). ‘Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Michael Georg Link, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, Jens Beeck, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion der FDP: Begleitung der Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas durch die deutsche Bundesregierung (Drucksache 19/31895)’. Berlin, https://dserver.bundestag.de/btd/19/318/1931895.pdf.

Emmanouilidis, J., & Greubel, J. (2021). ‘The debate on the future of Europe has a German problem’. Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/The-debate-on-the-future-of-Europe-has-a-German-problem~41db60.

European Commission (2005). ‘European Commission launches PLAN D for democracy, dialogue and debate’. Press Release, 13 October 2005, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_05_1272.

European Parliament, Council of the EU, and European Commission (2021). ‘Conference on the Future of Europe: Engaging with citizens to build a more resilient Europe’. Strasbourg, https://www.2021portugal.eu/media/wm3p11ds/210310_jointdeclarationcofe_en.pdf.

Greubel, J. (2021). ‘The Conference on the Future of Europe: Comparing the Joint Declaration to institutions’ expectations’. Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/The-Conference-on-the-Future-of-Europe-Comparing-the-Joint-Declaratio~3c7c60.

Macron, E. (2019). ‘For European renewal’. Paris, https://www.elysee.fr/en/emmanuel-macron/2019/03/04/for-european-renewal.

Sassoli, D. (2021). ‘Speech at the ceremony for the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe’. 10 March, Brussels, https://the-president.europarl.europa.eu/home/ep-newsroom/pageContent-area/newsroom/ceremonie-de-signature-de-la-declaration-commune-pour-la-conference-sur-lavenir-de-leurope.html?lang=en.

Stratulat, C., & Butcher, P. (2018). ’The European Citizens’ Consultations: Evaluation report’. Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/The-European-Citizens-Consult~267d84.

Stratulat, C., & Greubel, J. (2021). ‘Preparing for the Conference on the Future of Europe: The ‘known knowns’ of citizens’ participation’. Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/content/PDF/2020/Conference_on_FoE-web2.pdf.

von der Leyen, U. (2019). ‘A Union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe’. Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/political-guidelines-next-commission_en_0.pdf.

von der Leyen, U. (2021). ‘2021 State of the Union address’. Strasbourg, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_4701.

Wuermeling, J. (2021). ‘Auf ein Neues? Erfolgsfaktoren für die Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas’. Integration, (2), http://iep-berlin.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Volltext_Wuermeling.pdf.


[1]    See E. Macron (2019), ‘For European renewal’, Paris, https://www.elysee.fr/en/emmanuel-macron/2019/03/04/for-european-renewal.

[2]    U. von der Leyen (2019), ‘A Union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe’, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/political-guidelines-next-commission_en_0.pdf.

[3]    Conference on the Future of Europe (2021b), Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe’, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/en_-_joint_declaration_on_the_conference_on_the_future_of_europe.pdf.

[4]    European Commission (2005), ‘European Commission launches PLAN D for democracy, dialogue and debate’, Press Release, 13 October, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_05_1272.

[5]    C. Stratulat and J. Greubel (2021), ‘Preparing for the Conference on the Future of Europe: The ‘known knowns’ of citizens’ participation’,  Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/content/PDF/2020/Conference_on_FoE-web2.pdf.

[6]    C. Stratulat and P. Butcher (2018), ’The European Citizens’ Consultations: Evaluation report’, Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/The-European-Citizens-Consult~267d84; P. Butcher and C. Stratulat (2019), ‘Citizens expect: Lessons from the European Citizens’ Consultations’, Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/Citizens-expect-Lessons-from-the-European-Citizens-Consultations~26c3d4.

[7]    According to the Rules of Procedure, regional and local authorities, civil society, social partners and citizens can also organize decentralized events, the outcome of which can be collected on the multilingual platform.

[8]    Conference on the Future of Europe, ‘Joint Declaration’.

[9]    Stratulat and Butcher, ‘Citizens expect’.

[10]   According to the current timetable, French president Emmanuel Macron will represent the Council in the context of the French Council Presidency. See also: Conference on the Future of Europe, ‘Joint Declaration’.

[11]   Article 20 in Conference on the Future of Europe (2021c), ‘Rules of Procedure of the Conference on the Future of Europe’, Brussels, https://futureu.europa.eu/uploads/decidim/attachment/file/9340/sn02700.en21.pdf.

[12]   Article 20, footnote 7, in Conference on the Future of Europe, ‘Rules of Procedure’.

[13]   Article 18 in Conference on the Future of Europe, ‘Rules of Procedure’.

[14]   Conference on the Future of Europe, ‘Joint Declaration’.

[15]   See, for example: D. Sassoli (2021), ‘Speech at the ceremony for the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe’, 10 March, Brussels, https://the-president.europarl.europa.eu/home/ep-newsroom/pageContent-area/newsroom/ceremonie-de-signature-de-la-declaration-commune-pour-la-conference-sur-lavenir-de-leurope.html?lang=en; U. von der Leyen in European Parliament, Council of the EU, and European Commission (2021), ‘Conference on the Future of Europe: Engaging with citizens to build a more resilient Europe’, Strasbourg, https://www.2021portugal.eu/media/wm3p11ds/210310_jointdeclarationcofe_en.pdf.

[16]   Only these will follow the guidelines on a joint methodology set by the Conference’s Executive Board. See: Conference on the Future of Europe (2021a), ‘Guidance for National Citizens’ Panels in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe’, Brussels, https://futureu.europa.eu/uploads/decidim/attachment/file/10231/Guidance_for_national_panels_EB260521.pdf.

[17]   As we know from the European Citizens’ Consultations, the level of participatory undertakings will vary greatly between Member States when not guided by a common methodology. In the case of the ECCs, some Member States applied high standards to their consultations (e.g., Ireland or France), whereas activities in countries such as Poland mainly consisted of panel discussions and dialogue formats, with most speakers seeming ‘in some way affiliated with, or ideologically close to the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS)’ (Stratulat and Butcher, ‘The European Citizens’ Consultations’, p. 60). Events in the context of the Conference that are organized in the latter format will bear the risk of incomparability between Member States and a distortion of results. The lack of information on Member States’ approaches reinforces this risk.

[18]   J. Greubel (2021), ‘The Conference on the Future of Europe: Comparing the Joint Declaration to institutions’ expectations’, Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/The-Conference-on-the-Future-of-Europe-Comparing-the-Joint-Declaratio~3c7c60.

[19]   U. von der Leyen (2021), ‘2021 State of the Union address’, Strasbourg, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_4701.

[20]   It should be noted, however, that the Commission plays a pivotal role on the working level, including in the set-up of the European Citizens’ Panels and other elements of the Conference process.

[21]   Council of the EU (2020), ‘Conference on the Future of Europe: Council position’ 9102/20, 24 June, Brussels, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/44679/st09102-en20.pdf.

[22]   The EPIN report ‘Managed Expectations’ gives an extensive overview of Member States’ positions, including those of Austria, France, and Italy, which are certainly more ambitious than other Member States. See M. Alander, N. von Ondarza, and S. Russack (eds) (2021), ‘Managed expectations: EU Member States’ views on the Conference on the Future of Europe’, Berlin: EPIN, https://epin.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Managed-Expectations-EU-Member-States%E2%80%99-Views-on-the-Conference-on-the-Future-of-Europe.pdf.

[23]   J. Emmanouilidis and J. Greubel (2021), ‘The debate on the future of Europe has a German problem’, Brussels: European Policy Centre, https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/The-debate-on-the-future-of-Europe-has-a-German-problem~41db60.

[24]   Deutscher Bundestag (2021), ‘Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Michael Georg Link, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, Jens Beeck, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion der FDP: Begleitung der Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas durch die deutsche Bundesregierung (Drucksache 19/31895)’, Berlin, https://dserver.bundestag.de/btd/19/318/1931895.pdf.

[25]   Emmanouilidis and Greubel, ‘The debate on the future of Europe’.

[26]   Greubel, ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’.

[27]   Stratulat and Greubel, ‘Preparing for the Conference’.

[28]   A. Costa (2021), ‘Speech at the signing ceremony of the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe’, 10 March, Brussels, https://www.2021portugal.eu/media/quvd4zsp/20210310_speech_prime-minister_en.pdf.

[29]   Sassoli (2021), ‘Speech at the ceremony’.

[30]   Initially, the biggest roadblock for the Joint Declaration was institutional disagreement over the Conference leadership. Institutions also later clashed over the agreement on the Rules of Procedures and the role of the Plenary working groups. These points emerged from conversations between the author and people involved in the meetings of the Executive Board.

[31]   M. De la Baume (2021), ‘It’s on: Conference on EU’s future will still launch after power-sharing deal’, 7 May, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/conference-on-the-future-of-europe-power-sharing-deal-launch/.

[32]   J. Wuermeling (2021), ‘Auf ein Neues? Erfolgsfaktoren für die Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas’, Integration, (2), http://iep-berlin.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Volltext_Wuermeling.pdf.

[33]   Holding the Council Presidency in the first half of 2022, France will become co-chair of the Conference, at which point the Executive Board will draft the final report.

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