We see the newly published Joint Declaration as the long-anticipated step towards closing the yearlong deadlock and approaching the start of the Conference.
The current pandemic has brought to light the many ongoing challenges facing the European Union, causing an even greater need for the Conference on the Future of Europe to be citizens-led and impactful. We see the newly published Joint Declaration as the long-anticipated step towards closing the yearlong deadlock and approaching the start of the Conference. It should now prompt the European institutions to launch the design phase of the Conference as soon as possible, together with citizens and civil society, and in accordance with the Citizens Take Over Europe 10 principles for a citizens-centered Conference on the Future of Europe.
If the Conference is to be representative of the increasingly interdependent European citizenry, it must mirror the transnational nature of the European Union. For this reason, we welcome the introduction of transnational citizens’ panels that would represent a cross section of the European population. However, we see an urgent need for proper mechanisms that link the citizens’ panels with the decision-making of the Conference in ways to ensure its responsiveness and accountability towards the citizens. Likewise, Citizens Take Over Europe would welcome the first transnational citizens’ panel to be tasked with drafting the European citizens’ agenda for the Conference, with no limitation on the scope of topics and full flexibility in setting its democratic procedures. Considering the current restrictions on physical meetings, and in ensuring the greatest possible openness and inclusiveness, transparency and visibility of the Conference, we welcome a one-stop-shop multilingual digital platform that publishes all Conference documentation and which allows citizens to submit their views and ideas throughout the duration of the Conference. This platform should also have a clear interactive role in connecting the citizens’ panels in order to promote synergy among citizens.
Furthermore, Citizens Take Over Europe expresses concerns that the Conference’s lifespan has been sliced in nearly half, significantly constraining the breadth of ambition and depth of deliberation. Citizens’ panels – as a first-ever EU experience of multi-level debates – combined with the Conference’s governance complexities under conditions of ongoing pandemic restrictions, require inclusive popular deliberations without time constraints.
As a matter of fact, the governance structure that the joint declaration proposes for the Conference mirrors the complex characteristics of the EU institutional structures themselves. This risks leaving citizens and civil society with little confidence that the Conference will offer them more than another symbolic invitation to the back seat of a cumbersome European programme. We therefore question the set up of the Executive Board which fails to take EU accession countries or national parliaments into account, both of which are critical to the democratic future of the EU. It is alarming that the Joint Declaration heavily focuses the governance of the Conference on EU institutional representation, sidelining the role of citizens. In the eyes of citizens and civil society, this risks making the Conference appear as a top-down designed communication scheme, rather than a historic mission, a creative venture, and interactive endeavour that would offer European citizens new opportunities to have their voices heard and to co-decide with the EU institutions on their democratic future.
In sum, the Joint Declaration raises doubts as to how truly democratic and citizen-centered the conference design can be. Citizens Take Over Europe is convinced that for the Conference to become a success, a proper outcome and a significant political impact are necessary. The ambiguity of the proposed follow-up mechanism does not lead us to believe that the Conference fully lives up to democratic aims nor principles. Nonetheless, the Conference does have the democratic capacity should it instill proper feedback and accountability mechanisms. To strengthen its democratic capacity, we suggest that the final report of the citizens’ panel is to be submitted to the Executive Board and Plenary for the drafting of a legislative action plan, with a final approval by the citizens’ panel.
We expect the EU institutions to commit themselves to the Conference as well as to citizens’ participation in it. To ensure that citizens are included at an equal footing, it is critical that their panels are not sidelined in the complex governance structure and highly institution-heavy governing bodies. It is more imperative now than ever that the Conference begins as soon as possible, starting with a digital crowdsourcing of propositions for the agenda-setting phase and with civil society participation in the design-phase, thereby taking in citizens’ voices, such as from Citizen Take Over Europe’s public consultation about citizens’ hopes and fears regarding the Conference.