The Conference on the Future of Europe has set its sights on giving citizens an active voice and involving them directly in the issues that they consider relevant for the future of the European Union. The organisation of the Conference, outlined in 2019 with a view to fostering European values and cohesion, is an achievement of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU.
“To learn from the crises, to face the challenges awaiting us, to strengthen our European solidarity, and to build our common future, we need to reflect as a whole on our Union, and closely involve the citizens, civil society and national parliaments.” These are the words of the Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, with regard to this Conference, whose central point will be a platform for digital and multilingual participation, to be made available from tomorrow, 19 April
From then, through this site, citizens will not only be able to present their ideas and comment on proposals but also create and take part in events. However, to guarantee that the citizens’ voice is in fact heard, the platform will collect and analyse the submissions for later consideration in the Conference work sessions. The platform is thus a pioneering tool, which the European Commission sees as a “large-scale pan-European exercise in democracy” that will allow “an open, inclusive and transparent discussion with citizens on a series of priorities and fundamental challenges”.
The Portuguese Presidency and the Conference on the Future of Europe
On 18 January, at the first informal meeting of the Ministers of European Affairs under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Conference on the Future of Europe was one of the topics under discussion. Chairing the meeting, the Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, recognised the importance “of finding a fast and pragmatic way forward to resolve the programme of the governance” of the Conference.
Some days later, on 20 January, when he was presenting the Portuguese Presidency’s Programme to the European Parliament, António Costa stated that everything would be done to launch the Conference on the Future of Europe “as speedily as possible”.
On 5 March, the Council of the European Union approved the signing of the joint declaration by the three institutions and work began on setting up the Executive Board.
The Conference structure
The Conference on the Future of Europe consists of a wide range of conferences and discussions organised throughout the Union and made available on an interactive and multilingual digital platform.
These conferences, whether online or on site, can be organised at different levels – whether regional, national, transnational or European – and will involve civil society and stake holders.
Also available will be European discussion panels that should properly represent the citizens’ geographical origins, gender, ages, socio-economic backgrounds and/or educational levels. They should take into account the contributions collected via the platform and provide substance for the plenary session of the Conference by formulating a set of recommendations, to be followed up by the Union.
This plenary session will ensure that the recommendations by the citizens’ discussion panels, to be held at a national and European level and grouped together by topic, are discussed without pre-determined results and without their range being restricted to predefined areas of intervention. The Conference plenary will meet at least every six months and will be composed of representatives from the European Parliament, the Council, and the European Commission, in addition to representatives from all the national parliaments, on an equal basis, and the citizen body. The Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, the social partners, and civil society will also be represented.
The work and organisation of the Conference will be supervised by the Executive Board, made up of representatives from the three institutions (the Council of the EU, European Parliament and European Commission) on an equal footing (according to the principles of fair participation and decision-making by consensus).