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Defending the European Union and building a rEUnaissance starts at home

This week, I exchanged views with representatives of national parliaments and Members of the European Parliament on the future of Europe as we have a co-responsibility in carving the narrative on the European Union. I presented what the Committee has done on the future of Europe and our plans ahead of Sibiu and the EU elections.

The EU has been for all too long the scapegoat of all the problems linked to the inability to deal with the huge challenges we face. That is why we need more than ever to relate the facts and not waste our efforts countering opportunistic fiction. Europe has given us 70 years of peace and could continue to give us more prosperity and peace if we work together, constructively and responsibly.

For its part, the European Economic and Social Committee has been an active promoter of the Future of Europe Debate. This is not only reflected in the European Parliament's Atondo Report, but also in the launch of our EU-wide consultations and debates with our "Going Local" activities; the adoption of the EESC's resolution on the Commission's White Paper on the future of Europe, and the hosting of the "European Citizens' Panel" welcoming citizens from all across the Union.

Drawing conclusions from the wealth of activities, it is clear that whatever the Future of Europe will be, it will have to be citizens-driven. This means that in the institutional make-up of the European Union after 2019, the mechanisms for gathering, compiling and delivering citizen's input to Parliament, Council and Commission have to be not only improved, but also reinforced to deliver an 'enabling' and 'caring' Europe.

Without doubt, the existing European treaties provide unexploited opportunities, which could be used to improve all policies and thus strengthen the EU internally and externally. The same goes for the Eurozone and the completion of the European Monetary Union. However, the institutional set up needs rebalancing.

The European Parliament must better structure its relationship with national parliaments to offset the excessive power grabbed by the European Council in these last years. The Commission's role must be protected to enhance the communitarian approach. Qualified majority voting and the passerelle clause must be used in order to tackle challenges with prompt action.

An accountability system should be put in place. It is not acceptable that EU leaders sign agreements in Brussels and refuse to implement them once they go back home. If you agree to keep the budget deficit below the threshold of 3% of GDP, you need to abide by this rule.

The involvement of local authorities and organised civil society must also be strengthened, though the reinforced role of consultative bodies like the EESC and COR.

Never before has access to information been so easy. All EU draft legislation is online, but at the same time people think there is a growing distance between them and the institutions. We are collectively responsible for eliminating this distance. To this end, I have launched a programme for a genuine Renaissance: Something I call rEUnaissance.

We are now preparing our civil society contribution in view of the Sibiu summit of 9 May, after Brexit and ahead of the crucial EU elections. We are also preparing to be active in communicating the European elections, with the other institutions.

No matter what great ideas our institutions might have, they can only be validated through a much-needed increase in the democratic participation of voters in the May 2019 elections.

For that to happen, we all have a task: Defend the European project - seeing with pride what we have achieved in the last 70 years. Let us cherish this accomplishment, let us see the glass half-full, rather than half-empty. ...Let us realise the clear positive narrative of these decades, a story written together by all European citizens - and roll up our sleeves to continue working at the construction of our Union.

Only together, we can solve global challenges and shape a sustainable future for the next generation.

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