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Conference on the Future of Europe needs to do more to offer citizens new opportunities

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Conference on the Future of Europe needs to do more to offer citizens new opportunities


Democracy International sees the newly published Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe 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. The Joint Declaration, approved on 4 March 2021, 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.

Transnational and Accessible

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. We 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, we express concern 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.

Need for Stronger Role of Citizens

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.

Proper Follow-up is Critical

In sum, the Joint Declaration raises doubts as to how truly democratic and citizen-centered the conference design can be. Democracy International, as part of the Citizens Take Over Europe alliance, 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.


Democracy International's Position: 

Democracy International calls on the Conference on the Future of Europe to expand the scope of the deliberations to include topics that require Treaty change. We believe the Conference is the first step in a longer process of democratic reform of the EU. The Conference should use its unique opportunity with citizens' participation to review the extent of democratic reform that can take place under the current Treaties, and, if necessary, propose suggestions for Treaty amendments. If the Conference so sees fit, it should be able to recommend to the institutions to launch an official Convention, according to Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty, which, like our demands for the Conference, is democratic, transparent, and inclusive. While the Conference itself cannot lead to treaty change, we call on the Conference to trigger a Convention process as the official process of treaty change. As a final step, Democracy International supports an EU wide referendum on the final outcomes of an EU Convention. 


Further information:

Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe

Citizens Take Over Europe website


For questions, please contact:

Daniela Vancic


+49 221 66966531



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