By the EESC Workers' Group

The Conference on the Future of Europe is a truly special occasion, a key moment, in the much-needed creation of a genuine European public sphere. Reaching out to citizens, engaging with civil society, with trade unions and business organisations, is fundamental to its success. The issues to be discussed, ranging from European democracy to social justice, from jobs to the environment, from migration to climate change, are key challenges of the present and future for our continent and our countries.

Such an ambitious agenda raises expectations, and with good reason. However, hope is a double-edged sword, and if these grand topics are not transformed into real debates and practical proposals, if they do not manage to involve citizens beyond the Brussels bubble and engage with citizens and workers across Europe, hope can quickly turn into disappointment. This risks adding to the climate of disaffection embodied by the rise of extremism and populism. Political discussion is a lengthy process, particularly if ordinary citizens are asked to discuss very complex matters. And while this is, again, an opportunity, the short period scheduled for the Conference as a whole, and the brief content that has been made available to date, limited to a few outlines of the inaugural plenary session, warns us of the danger of completing the conference with not much but a series of general ideas and declarations.

A fundamental part of the Conference are the Citizens' Panels, randomly put together from citizens chosen across Member States to be a representative sample of our citizenry. However, with the first panel taking place this September, there is still no information on what exactly will be discussed, as the results of the first interim report, made by an external contractor on the basis of online contributions, is yet to be published. This certainly has the potential to bring outside ideas into the political discussion, but it also risks discussing too many disparate issues or overlooking fundamental ones, depending on online participation in earlier months and the criteria of the external contractor. With the end of the Conference set for March, and only three meetings scheduled per panel, the danger of dissipation is again very real. Another fundamental issue, particularly on the representative side of the political process, is that of the CoFoE Plenary Working Groups and the plenaries, in which EESC members will be involved. Their start date is nearing, and yet no information, aside from the titles of the groups, is available.

In order to develop its full potential, and to reach beyond the Brussels bubble, the Conference must develop tangible positions and proposals, and allow for the discussion process to happen and for the representative and participatory sides of democracy to work together. As trade unionists, we will do our best to make this happen, and to ensure citizens and workers are put first, but for this to work, the information flow needs to gain in transparency, and additional time might have to be added. (ppr)