Lisbon, Brussels want citizens to participate now in Conference on the Future of Europe

Ms Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs. [Copyright: European Union]

The Portuguese presidency of the Council and the European Commission today indicated that it wants citizens to start participating in the Conference on the Future of Europe now, even before the formal launch planned for 9 May.

At the end of a videoconference of European Affairs ministers, which looked at the current state of the event, Portugal’s secretary of state Ana Paula Zacarias, who chaired the proceedings, and Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said they hoped that the first meeting of the Conference’s executive committee, scheduled for Wednesday, would pave the way for citizens to start making their contributions.

“We will discuss tomorrow [Wednesday], in detail, the working methods, the visual identity of the conference and all the details to ensure that the conference starts as soon as possible, even before the formal launch, which is scheduled for 9 May, so that citizens can start working on this process,” Zacarias, the secretary of state for European affairs, who co-chairs the executive committee, said.

Šefčovič said it was “excellent news” that the conference, initially scheduled to start in May 2020, can finally begin, and thanked Zacarias and Prime Minister António Costa for their personal involvement.

“Tomorrow the executive committee will have its first meeting. We expect decisive steps, namely at the level of the digital platform, the map for citizen participation, and the visual identity of the conference,” he added.

Šefčovič also pointed out that the aim is to allow European citizens to start participating in the forum. At the same time, the ceremony planned for Strasbourg on Europe Day, 9 May, will highlight the importance of the event, which he hoped would have contributions from all corners of the EU.

“To be successful, it is crucial that we can go beyond Brussels and national capitals and reach out to the so-called silent majority,” he concluded.

Future of Europe project set for launch in May after lawmakers give green light

The European Parliament’s leaders endorsed on Thursday (4 March) the blueprint for the much anticipated Conference on the Future of Europe, a day after national governments also backed it. The Conference, which aims to reform the European Union and bring it “closer” to its citizens, is set to start its work on 9 May, Europe Day.

The chairs of the Conference on the Future of Europe, including Prime Minister António Costa, called the members of the executive committee to the first meeting on Wednesday, pointing out precisely that citizens should be able to start participating now.

In a letter addressed to the members of the executive committee, the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and António Costa, who chairs the presidency of the Council of the EU, set the agenda for this meeting, highlighting the need to pave the way for citizens to participate in this forum right now.

“We want the executive committee to exchange views on its internal working methods at its constituent meeting, given its central role in the Conference. We also suggest that it takes the necessary steps to ensure that citizens can start making their contributions to the Conference without further delay, particularly through the digital platform, the Charter for Citizens’ Participation and the visual identity,” they said in a communiqué.

The secretary of state co-chairs the executive committee of the Conference on the Future of Europe. It is composed of Ana Paula Zacarias, representing the Council of the European Union, of which Portugal holds the presidency until the end of June, Commissioner Dubravka Šuica, representing the European Commission, and Guy Verhofstadt MEP, representing the European Parliament.

The executive committee began to be formed after the signing ceremony of the joint declaration launching the event, held on 10 March at the European Parliament, attended by the three co-chairs of the Conference, the presidents of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council.

Portugal has appointed Zacarias to the executive committee. She will be one of the co-chairs until 30 June, when Portugal hands over the Council of the EU’s rotating presidency to Slovenia.

The Conference, which should then be formally launched on Europe Day, 9 May, in Strasbourg, if the COVID-19 situation allows it, will use several forums – virtual and, whenever possible, also face-to-face – as well as an interactive multilingual digital platform that will allow citizens and stakeholders to submit ideas online and will help them to participate in or organise events.

Appointment with history

Crises boost EU integration: an unprecedented budget, common bonds, border guards in EU uniforms. But EU parliamentary democracy is lagging far behind and the European Parliament should defend democratic oversight. If it shies away from using its powers, it will lose them, writes Sophie in ‘t Veld.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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