Speech by Diversity Europe Group President Séamus Boland on the Conference on the Future of Europe

EESC plenary debate on the 'Conference on the Future of Europe' with Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography

February 2021

Dear Vice-President,

On behalf of the Diversity Europe Group, allow me to also thank you for your presence here today.

I will begin my intervention with quite a daring statement: the European Institutions need the EESC to successfully conduct the process of the conference on the future of Europe. I say this for two reasons: firstly, because we can bring quality and legitimacy to this process. Secondly, because through our involvement, we will help to promote European values and crucially, to fight populism in Member States. I think we can all agree, that promoting European values and fighting populism, are integral to the objectives of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

How will we do all of this? At first sight, it is not so obvious, as the conference aims to consult citizens, not civil society organisations. Something we regret, as Article 11 of the Treaty on the EU refers to the obligatory consultation of both citizens and civil society organisations. However, the key to understanding our contribution, lies in understanding exactly who and what we are at the EESC.  

As civil society representatives, we are the 'missing link' between citizens and policymakers. We do not represent European citizens directly, but we do represent the organisations in which citizens are active. And hence, we can help create avenues for informed dialogue on specific topics, we can reach out to our vast network at all levels and we can guide the European Institutions on the subjects that matter in the daily lives of citizens. As civil society, we are both innovators and pragmatists and can deliver new ideas. We know how to provide social safety nets and economic impetus for citizens. I honestly believe that Group III in particular, has an important role in legitimising the process and in reaching out to the myriad of organisations in which citizens are active. We can provide this crucial role in our communities, in our regions and in our Member States!

We are ready to help in this process on the future of Europe, but under certain conditions: the first is that we are allowed to play a meaningful role with a permanent Observer Status which is explicitly recognised. The second is that there is agreement that there will be tangible results and follow-up to the proposals made by citizens. Otherwise, we will just create frustration, at a time when more than ever, we should be reaching out to citizens. Voters notice and that affects both national and European parliaments. Lastly, we must keep in mind that we are discussing the Future. And this discussion must include how civil society organisations will contribute to the future reconstruction and resilience of European communities and societies.

I would like to end on a positive note. I come from a country, where such citizen assemblies have taken place with surprising results. In Ireland, we have seen that such assemblies not only have the power to inform, but also to change opinions. In this case, hopefully in favour of the EU. In Ireland we also saw that when such citizen assemblies work well, they provide a mind-clearing idea to politicians, of what voters really want! Perhaps this will help the EU to demonstrate its resilience and to better define what we are, rather than what we are not! Thank you for your attention.

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Speech by Séamus Boland