Over 10% of citizen proposals on EU’s future require treaty changes, expert says

Outcomes of the conference are expected to be partially implemented by the Czech Republic, which takes over the rotating EU Council presidency in July. [European Parliament/Michel CHRISTEN]

Twelve per cent of European citizens’ proposals as a part of the conference on the Future of Europe require a treaty change if they are to be implemented, according to an EU law expert.

The data, seen by EURACTIV and compiled by Alberto Alemanno, EU Law professor at HEC Paris Business School and students from several universities, was extrapolated from the 178 proposals submitted to the conference between December 2021 and February 2022.

CoFoE is the EU’s deliberative democracy experiment where thousands of citizens from across the bloc compiled proposals on how they want the EU to function and what they feel it should focus on. The proposals are now under the scrutiny of the conference’s plenary composed of citizens, civil society organisations, and EU and national politicians.

We have browsed all 178 recommendations from the 4 Citizens’ Panels and classified them into four categories”, explains Alemanno on Twitter.

Twenty three do not need any action, 21 require action on a member state level, the EU can implement 113, and 21 require an EU treaty change.

“All recommendations falling under the latter categories entail either institutional reform (4) or the transfer of new competences in welfare (7), education (5), health care (2), taxation (2), and energy (1)” explains the expert.

However, calculations by European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová estimate that roughly half of citizens’ proposals would require a treaty change.

The Commission did not share how they got to such a figure, but those working on Alemanno’s study suspect “the [European] Commission’s (provisional) figure is higher insofar as Jourová’s Cabinet considered each citizen’s recommendation asking for EU action as only attainable through EU-led action, whereas our method also envisages the possibility of having member states – acting within their domestic competences – in coordination among them”.

Possible scenarios

Since the beginning of the experiment, CoFoE’s organisers said that recommendations’ implementation will occur according to the ordinary EU legislative process.

In this scenario, participants in the study believe that “the 21 recommendations may represent a sufficient critical mass for one or more EU institutions and/or one or more EU member states to trigger the Article 48 TEU’s revision procedure”.

The latter entails “amendments of the treaties” that can be submitted to the Council by “the government of any member state, the European Parliament or the Commission”, which can ask “to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the [EU] in the treaties”.

Therefore, “the 178 recommendations are set to influence future EU political and policy decision-making before, during and after the next EU Parliamentary elections,” said Alemanno.

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

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 the prospect of changing treaties could potentially cause disquiet in the Commission who previously said they were unwilling to undertake such actions.

However, Guy Verhofstadt, CoFoE’s chair, told journalists 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”.

However, in an interview with EURACTIV, Dubravka Šuica, the Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography who is leading the Commission’s CoFoE work said that treaties could be changed if citizens required that, although it would be the last step of the process.

She noted that any changes to treaties would still have to follow the appropriate legislative process. “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.”

CoFoE next steps

The CoFoE will end with a final ceremony in Strasbourg in early May at the European Parliament. There is one last discussion amongst members of the conference’s plenary, which will be held by April.

Afterwards, EU institutions will begin their part by implementing citizens’ recommendations in EU policy-making for the following months.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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