Future of Europe: What happens if a majority of citizens asks for ‘less Europe’?

Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica speaks to the Brussels press on 22 January 2020. [Europe by Satellite]

“That’s a very interesting question. If there will be a majority of them, we will follow”, Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica said on Wednesday (22 January), on what would happen if a majority of citizens would ask for “less Europe”.

Šuica, the Croatian commissioner in charge of Democracy and Demography, was giving her first media conference before the Brussels press, presenting the EU executive’s ideas for shaping the Conference on the Future of Europe, an effort expected to last for two years.

The project was announced by President Ursula von der Leyen in her Political Guidelines. As Šuica reminded, the idea is to give the possibility for citizens across Europe to engage in an open and transparent debate on the EU’s future. Other EU institutions, national parliaments, regional authorities and civil society are invited to join.

The Commission proposes two parallel work strands for the debates. The first should focus on EU priorities and what the Union should seek to achieve: such as the fight against climate change and environmental challenges, an economy that works for people, social fairness and equality, Europe’s digital transformation, promoting European values, strengthening the EU’s voice in the world, as well as shoring up the Union’s democratic foundations. The second should focus on addressing topics specifically related to democratic processes and institutional matters, including the Spitzenkandidaten system and transnational lists for European elections.

A multilingual online platform is planned to support the debate.

“We also want to reach those who are critical towards the European Union”, Šuica said.

Journalists reacted to the “first strand”, pointing out that the proposed discussion was not about the future, but about the policy priorities von der Leyen already committed to follow. Šuica answered by saying that this did not mean that there would be limits to the debate.

Asked what was the value of a debate which cannot produce a clear outcome, and given that EU leaders are unlikely to agree to treaty change, or to the extension of qualified majority vote to areas such as foreign affairs, Šuica said that “all issues are on the table”, and that the Commission would not pre-empt what citizens could ask for.

“If they want treaty change, we are open to this too”, she said, adding that the Council had “more to say on this than the Commission”.

“More than 50% of citizens took part in the European elections. We don’t know what were their ideas toward the EU – either sceptic or not sceptic. We are ready to talk to talk to everyone, we are ready to listen to everyone and then we will see what will be the final result. And we will implement the final results”, the Commission Vice President added.

It is assumed that a majority of the citizens who took part in the last European elections voted for pro-European parties – EPP, S&D, Renew Europe and the Greens took close to 70% of the European Parliament seats. However, it would be simplistic to presume that even those who vote for pro-EU parties necessarily would like “more Europe” – a term generally meaning increased EU competences and more common policymaking.

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