Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to introduce this event on the Conference on the Future of Europe.
This is a phase of transition for the Conference and this event represents a good moment to take the pulse of where we are, evaluate what happened in the past months and where we are going with this unprecedented exercise.
It is important to begin with a consideration on how we arrived to this process, as it is a key element that should define our actions. The Conference was conceived recognizing that citizens are increasingly disassociated from the EU as an institution and it was aimed at bridging a gap that finally became evident during the European elections 2019.
The inner working of this whole process, therefore, was always designed to prove citizens that the EU is not so distant and to involve them directly and through their representative organizations in decisions that matter to them.
This design was the result of complex negotiations, many different opinions on the structure and on the objectives had to find common ground. The Conference, especially given this is the first time such an exercise is being attempted, is therefore still untested.
We are navigating uncharted waters, with scant experience and when, inevitably, we will be confronted with challenges we could not prepare for, we should remember to check our north star, the principles and objectives for which we embarked.
The first months of the first Conference on the Future of Europe have been a moderate success. I say moderate as I believe the ambitions of this process should go beyond what we have seen until today and we should not be content with what we have achieved just yet. This is especially true from the point of view of participation for the ambitious policy objectives that are discussed.
In my view, a Conference on the Future of Europe should be a permanent fixture in EU political life and should involve every citizens and organization of civil society who might want to participate in discussions on important, long term topics.
Nevertheless, this Conference has been through a perfect storm of events and despite everything, it is succeeding. I am satisfied with the current results, more than 6 thousand events and close to 50 thousand participants in the Conference platform indicate that reaching beyond Brussels and the capitals was possible.
The Committee, some of you know this already, participated initially with a focus on supporting participation and reach. We organized large Institutional events, such as the one today, and also participated with smaller events in Members States and supported the organization with its partners all over Europe. We made sure to contribute to the lively discussions on the Conference Platform where we shared our ideas. And continued to promote important principles at the structural level.
Now that the works of citizens' panels is concluding and the online Platform will produce its key activity report. We will move on to a more institutional phase, a moment that will be more familiar to policy makers and members of parliaments.
This setting will lead to direct discussions on content, which I believe will be rich and open. Nevertheless, from now on, everything will feel much less ordinary exactly for those who are meant to be protagonists of this exercise, citizens who do not focus on policy issues in their life.
One minute speeches and exchanges on directives and regulation are not very useful general skills. Comprehension should not to be given for granted, this Conference should make every effort to be simpler and more understandable for those participating and watching.
Remember, we have a guiding principle that is the involvement of citizens. Transparency will need to remain at the centre of our actions.
It will be important to maintain the working methods within the Conference open to scrutiny and we must be ready to reply to questions regarding how conclusions have been reached.
Discussions will need to be based on the input from citizens and civil society and develop, enriching those. Not all the proposals will make it into policy, some will not find agreement, and others simply will not find space in the current priorities at institutional level. For those it will be important to explain why they have not been brought further.
Currently I believe the Conference is on the right tracks to realize its objectives. I believe one of the roles of organized civil society and therefore of the Committee is monitor this process and ensure its next phases continue to function in the best possible way.
All of this work will reach a final point around Spring, when a final report will be ready. This will not be the end; a final report is just a piece of paper if it is not translated into policy. The moment after the official end of the Conference will perhaps be the most difficult, as it will need the co-legislators to see a practical follow-up.
Institutions will need to translate recommendations into law, otherwise everything will have been for nothing, and, worse, the relations between citizens and the EU will grow increasingly apart. Learning the Conference lessons and the future of citizens' involvement
One final point I want to raise is the need to learn from the Conference. An ambitious process organized in the worst possible moment for events was able to reach this level of involvement, I interpret this as a strong desire from citizens to have more access to decision processes. This idea should be kept and enhanced. Citizens cannot simply be a part of democracy every 5 years.
Institutions that provide representation already offer a way for citizens to be part of the process, organized civil society for example has the EESC and is able to promote its points of view. Nevertheless, citizens must to be able to signal a new direction if needed. A permanent, perhaps lighter, structure for the Conference would complement representative democracy and ensure participation.
Further evolutions for this process would enhance its working methods and ensure everyone can be involved. The Platform could be surely made simpler and the Plenary and panels could turn into a recurring process to provide a continuous stream of input to EU Institutions. I believe this process has a positive future, but we will continue working to make sure it realizes it in full.