11 September 2020

A new push for Democracy: The Conference on the Future of Europe

The Conference on the Future of Europe is meant to bring a “new push for democracy”. But what exactly does that mean? In a series of guest articles, representatives from politics, academia and civil society present their wishes, hopes and expectations for the Conference. Today: Dubravka Šuica. (To the start of the series.)

European Flag
“It is now imperative to move forward, to think differently, and to accept that the EU cannot operate as ‘business as usual’.”

Democracy and trust in our institutions faced a stern test over the past few months in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was an unprecedented moment of shared concern and reliance among the citizens, national governments and the European Union.

The pandemic wreaked havoc in our daily lives and its social and economic impact will have long-lasting consequences. We are at a key juncture in the history of the EU. While we are gradually easing the restrictive measures put in place to protect citizens from COVID-19, we need to step-up our preparedness and design our common future based on the lessons learned in these months.

The pandemic shows us the importance of solidarity. On 27 May, the Commission launched a bold and ambitious recovery package to repair and prepare the EU’s social fabric for the next generation: “NextGenerationEU”. This recovery must also be looked at from a democratic perspective – citizens’ trust cannot be taken for granted.

Debating the future of Europe

One of the tools at our disposal for building trust and opening a space for dialogue and exchange is the Conference on the Future of Europe. It aims to create a space for discussion for all citizens and to allow them to play a more active role in deciding the future of the Union and its policies, including setting our priorities and our level of ambition. This is even more important in the current context: only by engaging with European citizens in a broad and inclusive debate on the future of Europe, we will be able to emerge stronger from this crisis.

In light of our markedly changed circumstances, certain aspects of this democratic exercise are being reshaped, including the launch that was supposed to take place on 9 May. But the European Commission determination and the principles of the Conference, as expressed by the Communication of 22 January, remain intact.

The Conference will give European citizens a greater say on how and what the Union does for them, beyond European elections. An essential part of this will be the EU’s ability to provide citizens with tangible follow-up and feedback based on their deliberation.

A truly joint endeavour

When will it happen? To be successful the Conference needs to be a truly joint endeavour. The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission must lay the ground for this process and discussions are on-going with a view to agreeing on a Joint Declaration setting the scope, structure and timing of the Conference.

This is an essential step to launching the Conference as soon as possible in autumn, but it is just the beginning. For the Conference to be a success and truly inclusive, everyone will need to play their part: from national, regional and local authorities, to parliaments, civil society and the private sector.

The specific situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic will of course need to be closely monitored. We aim to mitigate the constraints on physical gatherings by digitising part of the process through an advanced multi-lingual platform designed to facilitate citizen debates online, across the EU.

It is time to move forward

The Conference is not designed to be a panacea for all ills, but a venue where we can start discussing and defining the topics that citizens consider important. Citizens feel forgotten and they blame democracy for this. This is unfortunate but ultimately it shows the importance and relevance of democracy in our daily lives. It is now imperative to move forward, to think differently, and to accept that the EU cannot operate as “business as usual”.

Such is the case now for democracy and trust in the EU, but crucially also in the world at large – a highly geopolitical world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent on many levels but also in danger of fragmentation and economic depression. We will not leave any citizen, any region, town or village behind.

We need to hear from citizens

The COVID-19 crisis is a painful opportunity to come together to work on the issues that need improvement. To have the courage to change and forge a new improved relationship. We need to hear from citizens. What they thought we did right, where we can improve and how we can go forward together.

Citizens can look forward to doing this within the structure of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Together, we can build a stronger EU, both within and outside our borders. An EU built on trust, that belongs to all of us and in which each one of us has the opportunity to shape our common future.

Dubravka Šuica is Vice-President for Democracy and Demography of the European Commission. She is leading the Commission’s work on deliberative democracy and the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Expectations towards the Conference on the Future of Europe – Overview
  1. Was erwarten wir von der Konferenz über die Zukunft Europas? – Serienauftakt
  2. Die Zukunftskonferenz: drei Schwerpunkte für ein handlungsfähiges Europa ● Claudia Gamon
  3. Die Zukunft der Zukunftskonferenz, oder Der Rest ist Schweigen ● Dominik Hierlemann
  4. Eine Konferenz der BürgerInnen und Parlamente: Von der Konferenz über die Zukunft Europas zur Zukunft für Europas Konferenzen ● Axel Schäfer
  5. No Need to Hurry: A Well Designed and Inclusive Conference on the Future of Europe Should Start on 9 May 2021 [DE / EN] ● Julian Plottka
  6. Jugend, Wissenschaft, EuropaskeptikerInnen: Nur mit einer breiten Beteiligung wird die Konferenz über die Zukunft Europas zum Erfolg ● Gustav Spät
  7. Addressing the right problems with the right instruments at the right time: Reflections on the Conference on the Future of Europe [DE / EN] ● John Erik Fossum
  8. The Conference on the Future of Europe is an opportunity – also for the European Committee of the Regions [DE / EN] ● Mark Speich
  9. A new push for Democracy: The Conference on the Future of Europe [DE / EN] ● Dubravka Šuica
  10. Kompromiss mit Potenzial: Die Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas ● Oliver Schwarz
  11. Das europapolitische Quartett: Kann die Konferenz zur Zukunft Europas noch ein Erfolg werden? ● Carmen Descamps, Julian Plottka, Sophie Pornschlegel, Manuel Müller

Images: European flag: Rock Cohen [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr; portrait Dubravka Šuica: all rights reserved.

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