As I was in Brussels for business, I was able to pop in to the European Movement International’s (EMI) meeting with Carnegie Europe in the European Parliament last Wednesday. The triggers for the meeting were two-fold: Carnegie has just published its Report on “Six ideas for rejuvenating European democracy” whilst the European Commission that day had formally adopted its Communication on the Conference on the Future of Europe. EMI’s President – Eva Maydell MEP – hosted the event and Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica introduced the Commission’s paper.
She was at pains to say that there must be no “pre-judging” of the outcome of such a consultation exercise. The history of these “conferences” is that they acquire a life of their own and massive change can emerge. Could this make the EU become an attraction to British voters again in the fullness of time?
The topic was irresistible after Dave Rowen had introduced his recent survey of Branch Chairs to the National Council two weeks ago. They put the top priority – by far – for EM (UK) as “promoting the EU, its values and its benefits”, along with “democracy” as a major wish. So it was a great privilege to listen to an author of this new project in the Parliament buildings where the project was launched only in October 2019. The plan is for a formal launch of the Conference on Europe Day – 9thMay – with completion in 2022 so that the output can be in force and operational for the European Parliament elections in 2024. A demanding timetable if history is any guide!
Are our supporters fully aware of this project? Doubtful. A quick Google search only produced coverage in the FT and Guardian – highlighting the risk that UK media will now cut coverage of the EU down to the bare essentials of the negotiations. I can recommend the free content from Euractiv– and their coverage of the Commission’s launch. We will need access to this calibre of factual journalism as the UK press cuts the news flow from the EU.
The Communication described the Conference as “As a major pan-European democratic exercise, the Conference will be a new public forum for an open, inclusive, transparent and structured debate with citizens around a number of key priorities and challenges.” The scale of the ambition is also clear from the European Parliament’s recent resolution:
- European values, fundamental rights and freedoms,
- Democratic and institutional aspects of the EU,
- Environmental challenges and the climate crisis,
- Social justice and equality,
- Economic and employment issues including taxation,
- Digital transformation,
- Security and the role of the EU in the world
Carnegie’s six ideas also illustrate the breadth of the ambition for this project:
- Craft a compelling democratic narrative against the rise in illiberal values.
- Establish a more democratic way to elect European leaders.
- Foster a more transnational form of European party politics.
- Improve direct citizen consultations and democratic participation.
- Embrace a more positive approach to digital democracy that not only manages the risks of new technologies but also harnesses their potential.
- Strengthen public participation through a revamped European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI).
Graham Bishop is the Chairman of The European Movement National Council.