The event formally launching the Conference on the Future of Europe on 9 May is set to be a ‘hybrid’ of online and physical participation because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the EU Commissioner tasked with guiding the process said on Thursday (15 April).
“Given the current situation, the kick-off in Strasbourg must be a hybrid event, with a strong online component and the participation of citizens from all EU member states,” Commissioner Dubravka Šuica said in a speech on Thursday
“We must remain flexible. We would all prefer to be physically present, but this can only happen if the health conditions allow,” the Democracy and Demography Commissioner added.
The wheels of the project aimed at reforming the EU are slowly moving. The first and constitutive meeting of the Executive Board, which will guide the year-long process, was held on 24 March.
The Executive Board is composed of three Commissioners, three MEPs and three ministers from the Council (led respectively by Commissioner Šuica, MEP Guy Verhofstadt and, until the end of June, Portuguese Minister Ana Paula Zacarias, whose country currently holds the EU’s sixth month rotating presidency) who will steer the Conference.
However, a six-person ‘political’ secretariat will in practice do much of the work of drafting and preparing recommendations. Despite the UK’s departure from the EU last year, the secretariat will include Richard Corbett, the former UK Labour MEP, who drafted the European Parliament’s position on the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty.
The Conference, which aims to reform the European Union and bring it “closer” to its citizens, is set to have one year to produce an interim report of recommendations, which must then win the approval of member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Ahead of the Europe Day event, EU officials will launch the much-vaunted multilingual digital platform on 19 April, which they hope will form a key part of the EU’s attempt to engage grass roots campaigners in the process.
The platform, on which technical details are still being finalised, is designed to host thousands of submissions, recommendations and videos from citizens across the bloc, ranging from government-organised town hall meetings to self -organised small scale gatherings of just a couple of people.
The digital platform is expected to feed into the ‘citizens panels’ and into the conference plenary sessions. Insiders say it will use machine translation and artificial intelligence to sift through the recommendations for common themes and trends.
“The scale of the platform is really quite impressive. Everyone is encouraged about what it will be able to achieve,” an insider to the process told EURACTIV.
The idea of making the Conference as interactive as possible was set out in the text agreed by the 27 national governments last month, which promised that the process will “open a new space with citizens to address Europe’s challenges and priorities” and that “Europeans from all walks of life will be able to participate”.
It follows concerns from some civil society groups and observers that the Conference will be an overly bureaucratic and topdown process led by politicians.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]