On 18 March 2021, GLOBSEC and the European Policy Centre co-organised a policy dialogue that discussed the national elements of the Conference on the Future of Europe with policymakers and experts from across the EU.

The panellists included:

Martin Klus – State Secretary for European Affairs, Slovak Republic

Märt Volmer – Undersecretary for European Affairs, Estonia

Sandro Gozi – Member of the European Parliament, Renew Europe

Noelle O’Connell – CEO, European Movement Ireland

George Pagoulatos – Professor of European Politics and Economy, AUEB & College of Europe and Director-General, ELIAMEP

Kinga Brudzinska (Contributor) – Head of Centre for Global Europe, GLOBSEC

Corina Stratulat (Moderator) – Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre

COVID-19 and lengthy negotiations between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Council have led to the delayed launch of the Conference of the Future of Europe (CoFoE), but as the new launch date draws near, member states begin to finalize their strategies for planning for the CoFoE. The discussion focused on exchanging opinions on how citizens will truly be included in the conversations regarding EU policy, how to extract valuable outputs from the differing perspectives across the bloc, and what are some challenges that the member states face in preparing for the Conference.

Estonia’s preparation for events in relation to the Conference will be both an effort to collect feedback from citizens and to spread information about the workings of the EU in an engaging manner. In a joint effort from multiple agencies, Estonia is hoping to plan hundreds of events in many different forms, including in schools and digital spheres. The sophisticated e-consultation that allows citizens to directly comment on legislation is key to transparency, citizen involvement, and accessibility for participation in the Conference. Märt Volmer, the Undersecretary for European Affairs in Estonia, stressed the importance of a clear framework provided by the Executive Board of CoFoE for citizen participation. That crucial piece of guidance is currently lacking and leading to some challenges in Estonia’s preparation for events.

Slovakia took a similar approach in their events, where they will be presenting the work of the EU to the public, as well as gathering constructive feedback from citizens. However, Slovakia will also include an expert opinion in their preparation for the Conference. These experts will include policymakers, civil society experts, academics, and other stakeholders, in an attempt to inform future EU policies. In order to truly make a change in the EU, argued Martin Klus, the State Secretary for European Affairs in Slovakia, all voices must be seriously considered, and these events can create tangible results for the future of Europe.

Sandro Gozi, MEP representing France, gave an important perspective of the CoFoE from the European Parliament. The aim of the Conference is to be citizen-centred, interactive, and diverse: echoing the “bottom-up” approach mentioned by both Estonia and Slovakia representatives earlier. However, the success of the Conference’s goals depends on a meaningful follow-up from member states and all parties involved. Concurrent with earlier sentiments about creating a clear framework for the Conference from the Executive Board, the newly created body also must establish clear guidelines to create continuity across member states and ensure tangible results. This includes pathways for better citizen-EU dialogue after receiving feedback from citizens on policy changes. It is important to be able to communicate progress or implementation strategies back to the general public once results are drawn from the Conference.

Ireland’s Conference model is citizen-focused. Similarly ensuring that their citizens will be heard in the process of shaping the future of the EU, Ireland plans to utilize the increased levels of digital engagement to reach all citizens. In the past, Ireland has successful experience with this type of citizen dialogue, but only when they are inclusive, transparent, and clearly defined. When all of these things happen, as proven with Ireland’s citizens’ assembly, “bottom-up” and citizen-focused approaches can be successful. For the upcoming Conference, Noelle O’Connell, CEO of European Movement Ireland, argued that Ireland must continue to have this transparency and representation in order to address the complexity of the EU’s future steps.

Greece’s preparation for the CoFoE includes citizen panels and expert committees with the goal in mind to deliver real policy reform. This Conference provides the opportunity for member states such as Greece to voice their concerns regarding EU politics, and to create a general forum for open debate, but the overarching goal of the Conference is to generate real change, George Pagoulatos, Director-General of ELIAMEP argued. As Greece has further advanced in the digital space, that newly realized infrastructure can be leveraged similarly to Ireland and Estonia to expand reach to citizens for engagement in the Conference.

The importance of a bottom-up approach to the Conference cannot be downplayed. Many citizens have felt like they have been left out of policy decisions made by the EU — a phenomenon exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many details of the Conference are vague, making it difficult for member states to effectively plan for it. However, many governments are prevailing over this difficulty, and despite challenges and imperfections, it is still vital that this Conference takes place. Engaging with as many citizens as possible to reduce confusion and institutional disconnect will allow the EU to move forward as a stronger and more representative institution.

For an optimal model of the Conference for Central European countries, refer to our policy brief “Conference on the Future of Europe: a National Model for Central Europe.”