Annual General Assembly Europe's People's Forum - Debate on the Conference on the Future of Europe

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Dear President Casale,
Dear members of the Europe's People's Forum,

It is a great pleasure for me to participate to your General Assembly. During the Conference on the Future of Europe, I have come to know and appreciate the Europe's People's Forum for your constant proactive approach.

With May 9th, Europe day, we have come to the end of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The process, I am sure you all know, has been longer than expected, and more difficult too. Hearing about this idea in 2019, I had hoped the preparation would be settled in a matter of weeks and its implementation would give ample time to experiment and reach every citizen that might want to contribute. We know this was not the case, the negotiations have been difficult and took much time from the implementation. I do not need to remind you the last three years of course, you know that supporting the Conference to the finish line of its process has been difficult. It has also been equally rewarding.

The European Economic and Social Committee decided to be active during the CoFoE since the beginning. We found great partners and began organising events with the aim of including as many citizens as possible in the process. With this approach, we were able to reach more than 7,600 citizens in 45 events and support their involvement in the Conference. The change of pace between gathering input to discuss concrete proposals during Working Groups, Plenary and Executive Board meetings was very fast. After the Christmas break, we rapidly started progressing in the formal bodies of the Conference and discussing the input of the citizens' panels and from the online platform. Here, as a committee, and again consulting with our partners, we tried to enrich the discussion, presenting the points of view of organised civil society. Now that the Conference is over, I believe it is the right moment to draw the first, partial, conclusions. The final evaluation will have to be delayed until the Conference recommendations find their way in tangible follow-up measures, but we can already discuss a preliminary assessment.

I want first to say that I consider the Conference a success. Not unfettered, not without challenges, but a process that led to a good result in a difficult moment. A result which truly represent the discussion and ideas coming from the citizens, enriched by the various contributions offered during the Plenary and the Working Groups. My worst fear for the Conference was that it would lead to pre-digested conclusions that could be written already in 2020. This did not happen, on the contrary. I can testify that citizens, that were sceptical and found it difficult to adapt to the working methods. Although people do not live a life discussing things in 1-minute slots, by the end they were active and enthusiastic participants.

One particular moment comes to mind, from a Plenary in April. After a particularly heated exchange between a Eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament and a group of citizens during a session. This exchange was continued vividly outside the plenary room. I thought that this is what the CoFoE is meant to create. Not of course a setting for Eurosceptics to expose their distrust for Europe, but on the contrary to demonstrate that open debate is possible between radically different people and perspective and even if disagreeing, it is possible to come together.

Given the results of this first experience, I believe that involving citizens on a more stable basis and in innovative and active ways should become a staple in EU policymaking. A more direct and continuous approach will bridge the long-standing rift between the EU level and citizens and at the same time allow more perspectives represented in European policies. The first step to include such a proposal in European decision making on a stable basis is to make sure the recommendations from this first iteration are properly followed-up. The follow-up phase will be the most crucial piece in the architecture of the Conference on the Future of Europe. This last piece is the keystone without which the whole construction will not last.

If this time the recommendations, the contributions, efforts and ideas of citizens will not be properly followed up, any future activity of this kind will be deprived of any credibility. Too much has been promised to just ignore the results. I believe the Institutions are aware of this, and we can already see them taking the first steps to make the necessary changes.

From my point of view this process has to be facilitated with constant monitoring, and especially with a push for transparency. Ensuring clear public scrutiny on what happens to the recommendations is the best way to ensure they receive attention. Even if not all of them will find application, an explanation should be provided. It is exactly for this reason I have been proposing almost from the start, the creation of a dashboard system. A website where to track all the recommendations and their progress in a clear way, and a guarantee towards citizens that their contribution will be seriously considered. While some recommendations require treaty changes, we must not forget that the vast majority of recommendations can be followed up with the current framework. We must not overlook this low hanging fruits. Harvesting them must not be delayed by long discussions about treaty changes. If the follow-up will be successful, then I believe the need to continue the citizens' involvement will become undeniable.

One of the lessons I consider the past year has clearly taught is that decisions improve in quality when their process involves a plurality of perspectives. The more points of view participate, the more the decision will be supported. It is for this reason I believe future iterations of the Conference should continue using a hybrid approach. Bringing together not just citizens, but also organised civil society, social partners and all Institutions improves quality and facilitates support for decisions that are taken.

The European Economic and Social Committee will continue supporting the development of this process and is ready to leverage its membership and accumulated know-how to play a role as facilitator and guarantor of participative democracy at EU level. I know we will find in the Europe's People's Forum an ally in this process and a supporter in these demands. The launch of your Centre for European Citizens' Democracy is a concrete step proving your commitment to strengthening democracy and renewing trust and the sense of ownership in the European Union by engaging citizens. The EESC will be happy to explore ways to cooperate.

Once again, I want to thank you for cooperating with the EESC and its members during last year. My apologies, that I cannot stay with you for the entire morning. Given it's our Plenary week, unfortunately my agenda does not allow. I am sure we will find ways to continue our fruitful collaboration and find opportunities to meet again in the future.


Annual General Assembly Europe's People's Forum - Debate on the Conference on the Future of Europe