Citizens’ recommendations are “at the heart of the process” of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), Dubravka Šuica said in an interview with EURACTIV. If the recommendations include changes to treaties, the Commission will support them, in line with its legislative role.
Dubravka Šuica is the Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography. She is leading the Commission’s work on deliberative democracy and the CoFoE.
What is clear in this stage of the CoFoE is that citizens are asking for a change of the system in their recommendations. It also directly asked treaties changes in recommendations 18, 20 and 26 of the second citizens’ panel, regarding possible referendums at EU level, and to vote with absolute majority in the Council. Would you accommodate this citizen’s requests? With the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission earned the power for a treaties’ changes.
First of all, we began this Conference as a public space for citizens to deliberate. All of us as politicians have a forum to debate. Citizens don’t. For this reason, the CoFoE is an unprecedented exercise. EU institutions never started an experiment like that in the past, which is free, open, and encouraging. Because citizens can deliberate together with their elected representatives. What we said in the Joint Declaration, they committed themselves to act according to citizens’ ideas and recommendations. Even if citizens ask for a change of treaties. Then we will act accordingly. Of course, the change of the treaties would be the last part of the implementation process. As you said, as European Commission, we have enough space in current treaties to do so, and we will act according to our powers. But for this, under current treaties, we need a vote of 27 member states to change them. So, we would opt for a qualified majority vote, for instance, but this decision has to be taken also by the European Council. The European Commission will be always in support of this process. To sum up, if citizens ask for change of treaties we will support it, but as I said, according to our legislative role.
About the follow-up process of recommendations, the CoFoE website states that the Conference’s plenary will draft a report with the Executive board that then will be assessed by the Joint presidency. It is not clear how this drafting and assessing process will take place in detail. Can you explain how citizens’ recommendations will be then assessed?
As you know, two out of four citizens’ panels finalised their recommendations. One was on democracy values and rule of law, and the other one was on the environment, climate change and health. The other two panels will finalise their recommendations in February in Maastricht and Dublin. At this moment we have 90 recommendations, more will come. The executive board will follow-up recommendations without voting on them, but trying to reach an agreement on a consensual basis. It is too early for me to say in detail, but I can say that we will not lose out of sight of citizens’ recommendations because they are at the heart of the process. We will see what will be accepted or not.
So, there is not a specific methodology of adoption/rejection.
No, the only thing we know for sure is that we will act on a consensual basis.
Some recommendations, such as recommendation 46, panel 3, which asks to add “issues on mental health and sexual education” in school curricula, already address member states competences. Would you directly tell member states to follow-up on them? And how?
According to my experience, whenever I was in citizens ‘dialogues, particularly young people ask about introducing new curricula on education. By saying this, I don’t want to anticipate conclusions, but it seems to me that this is something everybody asks, so I think that even though education is member states competence, we have to very seriously take into account recommendations related to it, in order to build a European identity.
Several experts and academics are asking the EU to make the CoFoE a permanent exercise, institutionalising deliberative democracy in the EU legislative process. Would you seriously consider that?
The reason we organised this Conference is to listen to our citizens. We see there is a gap between policymakers and citizens. It is not enough to wait four or five years to see what citizens think. We haven’t decided yet, but we are considering at least keeping the multilingual digital platform as a permanent tool. Citizens need a space to interact with policymakers. We will decide on this after May 9th, when this deliberation process will be concluded. But for us, the work will have just started. We will have half of our mandate to follow-up citizens’ recommendations. In my opinion, one permanent mechanism will be necessary in a digitalised world. For instance, as I said, keeping the multilingual platform.
And citizens’ panels elected randomly?
There is a recommendation from citizens that ask for a permanent citizens assembly. It should be decided whether to have it once or twice a year. We are considering it.