Can the conference on the EU's future inspire citizens?

Over the next 12 months, the citizens of the EU are to discuss what kind of Europe they want for the future. At the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe on Sunday in Strasbourg, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to listen closely to what the people have to say. Commentators point to potential pitfalls.

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Tageblatt (LU) /

EU remains in its little bubble

Suddenly the EU is rediscovering its citizens, taunts the Tageblatt:

“They have been at the centre of many EU politicians' speeches for what feels like forever. 'The people first' is a phrase that has been used and abused for decades, without any consequences. That is why we are now quite justifiably mistrustful and, yes, also embarrassed for them. Dear politicians in your bubble: On Sunday there were no parking spaces for your citizens in Schengen [where Europe Day was also being celebrated]. All the free spaces far and wide were reserved for the 'guests of honour'. The police ensured order on your behalf. And then red and white ribbons on the Place des Étoiles showed the curious population that they weren't really welcome. Any more questions?”

Le Soir (BE) /

All citizens must be heard

Too little has been done to popularise the Future Conference, Francesca Ratti and Guillaume Klossa of the organisation Civico Europa complain in Le Soir:

“Who is aware of the decision of Europe's leaders to propose a Conference on the Future of Europe? Managing such an undertaking requires strong political will, considerable financial resources and the prior mobilisation of society. If these conditions are not met, citizens' consultations will fail to involve enough citizens. This is why the European consultations that have been conducted so far by governments and institutions have failed to mobilise more than just a few tens of thousands of people. We can do better than that.”

15min (LT) /

Political mobilisation needed

The focus must be on making the conference a success despite its weaknesses, political scientist Ramūnas Vilpišauskas urges on news website 15min:

“So the conference is now taking place after all, and it is to be used to foster political mobilisation. If we want to solve cross-border problems, society should be more actively involved in the discussion about how the EU functions and about its relationship with the member states and their citizens.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Unstructured and unreflected debate

Things are not looking good for the Future Conference, notes Der Standard:

“No one is there who would have the authority to mark out the larger political course for the future in simple words. Almost without exception, all those in power have shown themselves to be driven by the petty details in their nation states. Quite a few are populist or even nationalist - not just the frequently and rightly criticised Viktor Orbán. The EU Commission, including its president, has also missed an opportunity. Unlike with previous EU treaty reforms, it has refrained from presenting its own concrete, tangible proposal. So now - with the participation of the citizens - we will see a year of feisty, unstructured, unreflected debate. Not a good omen.”

RFI România (RO) /

Europe as a big building site

One of the key issues is the future role of nation states, Radio France International's Romanian service notes:

“Two huge building sites lie before Europeans. The first is the urgent recovery plan, which is to not only revive the economy after the health crisis, but also deeply reform it. The second - much more lengthy battle - is the Conference on the Future of Europe, a series of debates and discussions through which the citizens are to help shape the future of the European project. Should the Union be further integrated? Or on the contrary, should nation states play the leading role? This debate has only just begun.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Scrap the principle of unanimity

There is a magic word in Brussels that is always used when a decision is not reached, La Repubblica writes mockingly:

“That word is 'unanimity'. For the last twenty years, it has served as the great excuse for the European Union. Because it is a fundamental and crucial part of the EU treaties. Can these treaties be changed? This is the fundamental question that will accompany for a year the Conference on the Future of Europe that started yesterday in Strasbourg. It is a question that is a matter of life or death for the European project.”