The Conference on the Future of Europe, launched in March seeks to give EU citizens a voice in determining the bloc’s priorities. Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé takes stock of what has been achieved so far.
Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé is an MEP in the European People’s Party (EPP) and a member of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
A year ago, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing passed away. The man who declared in 1957 that he had “a reasoned faith in Europe” during the debate on the ratification of the Treaty of Rome in France, never stopped “dreaming and making people dream of Europe”.
Until the very end, he wanted to write and shape Europe, and in April 2020 he called for “public health to be decided at the Community level”.
Giscard d’Estaing was also, in the early 2000s, the president of the “Convention on the future of Europe”.
Charged with reforming the functioning of the EU and making it more efficient and transparent, this exercise enabled its 105 members – national representatives, MEPs and members of the European Commission – to propose a draft European Constitution.
The exercise was rejected by referendums held in France and the Netherlands, but laid the foundations for the Lisbon Treaty signed in 2007.
Nearly twenty years later, French President Emmanuel Macron put forward the idea of a “Conference on the future of Europe”.
The Conference, which is supposed to be held in the spring of 2022, coincides with France taking over the EU Council presidency and the French presidential elections, and should not be used as a mere communication gimmick to benefit Macron.
As far as its organisation is concerned, the “Conference” is strangely reminiscent of the “Convention” proposed by Giscard d’Estaing, but with one notable difference, namely that European citizens, even non-elected ones, are involved in the process.
Unfortunately, this democratic and unprecedented exercise remains unknown to the general public and is ignored by the national media.
However, the Conference on the Future of Europe offers unprecedented perspectives. In 70 years of European construction, it is the very first time that citizens have been given the opportunity to decide for themselves on the future of the Union, on their future.
Through thematic panels, or via a dedicated online platform, any EU citizen can set his or her priorities for the Europe of tomorrow on various issues like the economy, democracy, the environment, health or the EU’s place in the world.
In spring 2022, at the end of the conference, a final report will be published. This summary of concrete proposals will be incorporated into European legislation.
At a time when Europe is threatened by populists of all stripes who would like to deconstruct the Union or by the supporters of a blissful and illusory Europe, the Conference is an important event to overcome the EU’s famous “democratic deficit” and we must make it known.
It is also an opportunity to show our citizens what Europe does for them and the positive impact the EU has on their daily lives.
The pandemic is a good example. We would never have been able to vaccinate our citizens so quickly and on such a large scale without the joint purchase of vaccines at the European level. We would never have been able to travel again, so freely, despite the pandemic, without the European COVID-19 certificates.
The Conference is an opportunity to turn the tide, to shape with vigour and determination the Europe of the future, a Europe that is innovative and initiates change. We must neither listen to the citizens with a distracted ear, nor instrumentalise the exercise for electoral purposes.
The final report will be the first step. It will then be up to the institutions to remove the legal obstacles that may prevent these proposals from becoming reality.
As European decision-makers, we will have to show courage, will, and be able to remove all legal obstacles to meet the legitimate expectations of citizens. The challenges we face are numerous: health, environmental, economic, migration, security…
On all these subjects, we need a European response with more cooperation, harmonisation and solidarity between the 27 member states.
Let us take the very concrete example of health, a subject mentioned by Giscard d’Estaing in his April 2020 speech.
Today, the Union has only a supporting and coordinating competence in this area, which means that the member states remain almost exclusively competent. However, as EU citizens have expressed during the various events organised in the framework of the Conference, the crisis has taught us that more Europe in the field of health is vital.
To be better equipped against future pandemics, the response must be a European one and the EU’s competencies must be strengthened.
It is with the EU’s 27 members that we will succeed in regaining our health sovereignty so that strategic medicines and medical equipment are produced in Europe.
It is also together that we will manage to ensure sustainable, fair and safe access to healthcare in the EU, whether by generalising the practice of group purchasing (which has proved its worth with the vaccine) or by facilitating the mobility of healthcare workers.
All EU citizens must be able to benefit from innovative cutting-edge treatments and the Union must be a pioneer in research to tackle scourges such as cancer or rare diseases.
European solidarity is not an empty word, the citizens of the Conference have understood: it is collectively that we will succeed in meeting these challenges and in building a sustainable future for our children.