The great expectations some have for the ongoing Conference on the Future of Europe, and the little that is known about it, weigh heavily on it, writes Christian Moos.
Christian Moos is the secretary-general of Europa-Union Germany, the largest citizen initiative for the EU in the country.
Ignorance about the conference is due to the disinterest of large parts of politics, and hence of most media. Some governments also do not want the conference to be of greater importance, which is why it suits them if it does not get much attention.
Among the few who have high expectations are certainly the European federalists, whom I represent as secretary-general of the non-partisan Europa Union in Germany.
More interested parties also include the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an EU consultative body in which the most important social partners and representative associations of organised civil society draw up joint recommendations on European legislative initiatives. For the plenary session of the conference, I am a member of the EESC.
The current conference situation is sobering. While plenary sessions and working groups rarely meet and get lost in a multitude of individual interests, the online platform also receives little attention.
In pan-European citizens’ forums, citizens drawn by lot give a non-representative picture of what people expect from Europe, how the EU should go on. Supporters of direct democracy are happy about this and want citizens’ councils to become standard in a renewed EU.
Most participating parliamentarians welcome this or are wary of openly criticising this model experiment in participatory democracy. Only a few dare to express the concern that such attempts can also strengthen populist tendencies and weaken representative democracy.
The conference only inadequately fills the political vacuum that has already existed for several years. Jean-Claude Juncker, former European Commission President until 2019, and pro-European members of the Council and the European Parliament had initiated a European debate on the future after the Brexit shock.
The EU, then of 28, had visibly reached its limits in terms of its depth of integration and ability to act. French President Emmanuel Macron made several attempts at a major European project but did not receive sufficient support, at least not from Berlin.
Whether justified or not, strong French interests could also be suspected behind the Elysée’s insistence.
The tensions and divisions that have increasingly built up in the crisis years since 2010 at the latest are paralysing the EU both internally and externally. Even the agreement on the Next Generation EU programme worth €750 billion does not change this situation significantly.
Asking citizens what they want from Europe is a massive failure on the part of the political elites, especially the European governments.
Trust in the democratic institutions cannot be regained in this way. Especially since there is little to suggest that the non-representative, democratically non-legitimised wishes of the respondents identified in this way will be seriously acted upon.
The European institutions, the national parliaments and governments have the responsibility to preserve the European order and to further shape integration in such a way that Europe can remain an area of freedom, security and justice, of prosperity and solidarity.
The conference so far shows a kaleidoscope of the most diverse expectations of Europe. Even if the majority of these may be progressive, the picture remains fragmented.
The conference will only be effective if the participants develop a common awareness and agree on a few recommendations that ensure more European cohesion and more European capacity to act without betraying Europe’s values.
Only in this way will it be possible to create publicity, only in this way can those who ultimately bear the responsibility for further integration be held to a politically effective obligation. Besides the European Parliament, these are first and foremost the member states or the national governments.
Of fundamental importance is a process of clarification: Should the European Union continue to be a community of law and values? The answer can only be yes. Therefore, this foundation must be restored without delay. It is also the indispensable prerequisite for any further deepening of the Community.
If individual member states do not want to or cannot go along with this, the only choice is between the successive disintegration of Europe or the creation of a liberal-democratic core that finds its gravitational point in a worldwide alliance for democracy.
The conference must not get lost in the minutiae. It must raise the big questions that only a new Convention can answer. It is high time for this. The fear that it cannot work because Europeans are too divided is well-founded.
However, as a consequence of a failing Convention, those member states who want to preserve and develop a free Europe can create a new, genuine community of solidarity, a political union, a European federal state.
Those who are not part of it from the beginning can follow as soon as the conditions are met. These must be, above all, democracy and the rule of law and the will of their respective populations to follow the path to a federal Europe.
The European federal state will develop new charisma, strengthen liberal democracy in Europe. Hardly any population, hardly any European country will want to remain permanently outside.