The Conference on the Future of Europe is underway but there is a great risk that it will turn out to be a lost opportunity. This is due mainly to the inaction of “pro-European” governments and parties and the European institutions, writes Roberto Castaldi.
Roberto Castaldi is the research director at the International Centre for European and Global Governance and the Director of the Research Centre on multi-level integration and governance processes at eCampus University.
Nobody expects an Orbàn or Kaczyński to launch a massive campaign to show how democratic the EU is but pro-European governments and European institutions should do so.
What’s the point in creating a multi-lingual digital platform where citizens can express their opinions, organise and promote events and not let the citizens know about it, or invite them to use it?
National governments accepted to implement the Conference – initially Emmanuel Macron’s idea, then supported especially by the European Parliament – but are afraid that the citizens may propose ambitious reforms.
And it will indeed be difficult to ignore the Conference results if many citizens participate in its works through the digital platform and if many events are organised locally, in a bottom-up fashion around Europe.
In her State of the Union speech, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen invited all citizens, and especially young people, to participate. But the European Commission lacks a communication strategy and any political and financial investment in it.
The Commission could ask universities, schools, research centres, NGOs receiving EU funding to organise at least one event and insert one idea in the Conference on the future of Europe, and to invite their members to participate, inserting an invitation to participate in their websites and newsletters.
It could ask that all EU-funded training courses include such an invitation too. It could invite member states to undertake a series of inexpensive actions that would be difficult for them to refuse: for example, ask education ministries to invite schools to devote some of their civic education agenda to debates among students on the future of Europe.
The Committee of the Regions fought to be involved in the Conference plenary, but so far it doesn’t seem effective in mobilising regional and local governments.
It would not be difficult for local and regional governments to organise open Council meetings to be inserted in the Conference platform, or to insert in their websites an invitation for citizens to participate with a link to the platform.
The same applies to the Economic and Social Committee. If the main economic and social actors were to insert their ideas in the Platform and ask their members to support them and participate in the Conference a great debate could be sparked around Europe.
A great responsibility lies with the pro-European parties. They are not asking their local, regional, national branches to organise events, to engage in the debate, to finally present and discuss with citizens their own vision for the future of Europe.
They are not asking the local or regional government of which they are part to mobilise and organise open Councils. They are not asking the national governments of which they are members to mobilise their universities, schools, local government, and civil society in this great debate.
Why? Because they are afraid of the nationalists. They are afraid to say that for the EU to face the great challenges – such as climate change, digital and green transition, worsening geopolitical crises all around the EU – and contribute to global solutions and public goods, national vetos must be abolished and real own resources created.
Also, the Commission’s role as a European government should be strengthened, and a real pooling and sharing of sovereignty should occur also in the area of foreign, security and defence policy.
Basically, the EU needs to be fully federalised. Europe is an economic giant but a political dwarf and a military worm.
This means that the EU is strong and member states weak: We are an economic giant because we have pooled and shared sovereignty in the economic realm; we are a political dwarf and military worms because sovereignty has remained national in those areas.
To face China, Russia, the US, we need European sovereignty in those realms too. To foster global solutions to the climate crisis, we need a single external representation on the international arena, with the EU able to propose new forms of supranational governance to cope with climate change.
I believe that if Altiero Spinelli were alive, he would have tried to force all these actors to rise to the challenge, engage with the citizens and tell them the truth, while pushing the Parliament to propose a comprehensive reform of the EU on the basis of the Conference result.
This is what the Spinelli Group should do to be true to its name.