This year’s Europe Day should have been the starting point for the conference on the Future of Europe, but the coronavirus pandemic has put the project on the backburner. Could Germany’s EU Presidency give new impetus to the initiative? EURACTIV Germany reports.
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last Monday (18 May) at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, the Conference on the Future of Europe will have to be adapted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is now necessary to “talk seriously about what Europe could not do enough now and what the future of the European Union will be,” said Merkel.
The conference was originally scheduled to kick off on 9 May but because of the virus outbreak, it was postponed indefinitely.
Whether the Future of Europe conference can begin in the second half of 2020 and thus during Germany’s Council Presidency depends on the further development of the pandemic, a government spokeswoman told EURACTIV Germany.
However, Germany could still play an important role in the operational preparation of the conference.
For now, the conference is not included in the programme of the German EU Presidency. Yet Linn Selle, the President of the European Movement Germany, remains optimistic.
“We assume that the conference will be included”, Selle told EURACTIV Germany in an interview. The German Council Presidency is “central to starting preparations for the conference”, she added.
With regards to the EU’s shortcomings revealed by the coronavirus crisis in recent weeks, Bundestag MPs, MEPs, as well as civil society representatives, in particular, are pressing for the conference to take place so that treaty revisions can also be discussed.
“As a Parliament, we cannot wait for someone else to come up with the proposals for a new treaty,” said MEP Sven Simon of the Christian Democrats (EPP).
Socialist MP Christian Petry, who sits in the European Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, is also calling for a constitutional development of the EU and stresses that it is important to involve citizens in the debate.
COVID-19 raises new topics
In addition to numerous institutional discussions, it is to be expected that new topics will be featured on the conference agenda.
In January, the European Commission had above all identified the management of climate change, social justice and the digital transformation as political priorities.
In the future, the introduction of a European healthcare system, the demands for more technical sovereignty and the discussions on the introduction of new financial instruments to cope with the crisis are also likely to move into focus, as Merkel and Macron made clear last week.
“The conference should be open to addressing the problems we face today,” said Selle.
Merkel: Treaty changes not excluded
In recent weeks, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more open to possible treaty changes.
In recent years, “not enough progress had been made in the shaping of the political union,” Merkel told the Bundestag on 13 May, adding that there would thus have to be more integration rather than less.
Last Monday (18 May), Merkel also confirmed that the EU’s response to the crisis “might require treaty changes”.
Government sources say that EU member states are currently exchanging views on how to proceed. Unlike the European Commission and Parliament, the European Council has so far been unable to agree on a unified position on the conference.
However, this could change in the near future. “There is no reason why the Council should not present its ideas by the end of May, beginning of June,” said Selle optimistically.
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)