Three hundred and thirty-six pages. That was the hefty volume delivered to the European Union on May 9th by the chairs of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The tome recorded the results of a year of working groups, an online platform (where citizens could offer ideas), and in-person discussion groups of “diverse,” “randomly selected” EU citizens. As promised, the conference, touted as an exercise in democracy, delivered a set of proposals to improve the European Union, approximately 300 of them.
The political usefulness of the final report will likely come from this fact: that the conference was designed and lauded as a continent-wide meeting of EU bureaucrats with ordinary Europeans, precisely to gather the suggestions from the man on the street into a democratic mandate for EU politicians. This principal, stated in the report as coming from the mouths citizens, is meant to lay “the foundation for the creation of a more united and politically cohesive Europe.”
Nevertheless, for the most part, the hundreds of proposals are unsurprising. From suggesting more investment in “green” energy and “climate-friendly technologies” to encouraging Europeans to less meat and use more public transportation, to incentivizing organic farming; creating more protected natural areas; reducing bureaucracy; prohibiting single-use plastics; addressing European dependency on foreign markets for essential manufacturing components such as micro-chips; eliminating “tax havens” among member states—the proposals largely reiterate either the already-underway progressive agenda, all of which are very controversial issues, or echoe the legitimate concerns currently being debated both inside and outside of EU institutions.
How far some want the political unity of the EU to go in implementing the agenda becomes clear in the few, though significant, proposals that require changes to the EU’s founding document, the Treaty on European Union. Among them are giving the European Parliament the right of legislative initiative; abolishing the unanimity vote on everything from foreign policy to tax matters; creating the possibility of EU-wide referenda; developing European Union health competencies, essentially creating an EU-wide public health system.
Additional proposals, such as allowing citizens to vote on transnational lists with an EU-wide constituency, would require a unanimous vote by EU countries in the Council.
Rather than uniting the European Union, the conference has become a point of contention. On the one hand, Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen immediately came out in favour of the possible treaty changes, and the EU Parliament is expected to call for a constitutional convention at its plenary in June. On the other hand, some MEPs and a significant number of member states have expressed their opposition to a federalized Europe and treaty change. The same day as the report was delivered, thirteen member states published an open letter taking a stand against treaty changes and other aspects of the conference report.
If Parliament gets its way and passes a call for a constitutional convention, it’s not clear whether the Council could gather the simple majority of 14 countries needed to trigger such a convention—13 countries have already expressed opposition—and making any actual treaty changes would yet require a unanimous vote.
In the end all may be for naught anyway.
And what has the EU paid for this effort? The EU executive has not disclosed the total cost of the conference, stating, according to Politico, that it doesn’t have that number as the various parts of the conference were paid for from the budgets of the respective EU institutions that organised them. It did tell the parliament earlier this year that it had shelled out €20.9 million thus far on costs ranging from travel and accommodations to simultaneous translations.