CoFoE could cause disquiet in Commission over citizens’ wishes to change treaties

EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS / POOL

Changing the names of institutions, forming transnational lists, and questioning the unanimity vote are among  39 recommendations approved by the citizens’ panel on democracy at a Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) panel in Florence last weekend. But some of the recommendations headed for the Commission might be met with resistance.

CoFoE is the EU’s democratic experiment where 800 citizens deliberate recommendations for EU lawmakers, divided into four thematic panels.

Florence’s panel is the first to finalise its recommendations that concern a wide range of topics, including anti-discrimination, democracy and the rule of law, EU institutional reforms, the building of a European identity, and the strengthening of citizen participation.

Several recommendations would require changes to treaties, leading to clashes with the Commission, who have said they are unwilling to take such actions.

Guy Verhofstadt, CoFoE’s chair, told journalists that “it will be very difficult for European institutions to neglect the recommendations of the citizens. This exercise is organised by the EU, together with national parliaments, to actively involve citizens in the policymaking.”

“Reforming the EU” recommendations.

There are nine recommendations dedicated to the reform of the EU. Most of them potentially go beyond the current treaties, as they aim to implement transnational democracy and involve citizens in policymaking regularly.

“We recommend changing the names of EU institutions to clarify their functions,” states recommendation 15.

Citizens suggest renaming the Council of the EU the “Senate of the EU” and the Commission the “Executive Commission of the EU. They also ask to change the name of the European Council to distinguish it from the Council of Europe better.

Harmonising the EU electoral law among 27 member states and establishing the “right to vote for different EU level parties” are included in suggestion 16.

In the 20th recommendation, they question the unanimity vote within the EU institutional body voting system. If needed, citizens’ also suggest a treaty reform.

Recommendations 18 and 19 ask for a more accessible EU, with the creation of a platform to provide clear and transparent information about EU institutions (with the possibility to ask questions to experts), the establishment of a “multifunctional platform where citizens can vote in online elections and polls”, and the creation of an EU-wide referendum for exceptional cases with legal boundaries.

21 and 22 calls for public investment in job creation as they believe it is needed to improve and harmonise the “quality of life across the EU”. To do that, they also ask to create indicators dedicated to it.

Recommendation 23 addresses themes that are not new for institutions: taxation of big companies and the abolition of tax havens. Hopefully, with this push from citizens, the EU can eventually agree on these issues.

These recommendations will be discussed and voted on in January 2022 with the plenary in Strasbourg, where 20 ambassadors from each panel will present recommendations.

As reported by EURACTIV, participants fear that EU institutions will not hear their voices due to the lack of media coverage, combined with potential political problems with the Commission.

Verhofstadt concluded that “I cannot see a situation in which the Council, the Commission or the Parliament declare that they do not follow up some citizen’s recommendations. The task for the plenary will be to react and accommodate each of them. There is no escape from this”.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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