“Conference on the future did not go as hoped”

Hundreds of citizens have hardly received their wishes for a future EU before resistance begins to form.

After a year, the EU future conference ended on Monday. In addition to the citizens’ forums organized by the EU institutions, numerous national platforms have developed proposals for EU reform. There have been hundreds of wishes, some of which even contradict each other. They range from the promotion of vegetarian food and more high-speed rail routes to abolition of the unanimity principle, a right of initiative for the European Parliament and new competencies for the EU, for example in health care, but also more subsidiarity.

What was the aim of the EU Future Conference?

The declared goal was to collect suggestions for a reorganization or redesign of the European Union. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke of a “common vision” for Europe at the inauguration of the conference in May 2021. Trusting in the swarm intelligence of the participants, the most creative ideas should be singled out from the mass of European political platitudes in the course of the process. Speaking of the process: the organized involvement of citizens in day-to-day business in Brussels was the unspoken goal, because the distance between the EU and the everyday life of European women has been criticized for years – not entirely without justification. In its final report, the scientific advisory body that accompanied the future conference, consisting of four European think tanks (Bertelsmann Foundation, EPC, Mercator Foundation and King Baudouin Foundation), came to the conclusion that the grassroots democratic citizen bodies were the best-functioning part of the undertaking – whereby these The knowledge is not unclouded, because as the consultants had to discover, the fact that citizens are distant from the EU is also due to ignorance: even among the participants in the future conference, the willingness to acquire knowledge about the workings of the EU in the run-up to the consultations was on the wane.

What happens to the results?

The Vice President of the European Parliament, Othmar Karas (ÖVP), is convinced that the “credibility of the results” of this conference lies in their implementation. A majority of MEPs has therefore already spoken out in favor of holding a convention that will deal with the realization of citizens’ wishes and initiate the necessary legal and treaty changes. For the time being, the EU Commission is examining all proposals for their legal feasibility and will list specific reform steps where this is possible. However, expectations should not be set too high. “The Future Conference is an exercise in democracy, which also means that not all proposals are implemented one-to-one,” says the head of the European Commission’s representation in Austria, Martin Selmayr, trying to explain. Ultimately, the EU government and the European Parliament decide on this.

Who are the driving forces, who are the brakes?

Not all who present themselves as a driving force will ultimately fulfill that role. It is clear that a majority of the MEPs are committed to a broad implementation of citizens’ wishes. It is not so clear whether most EU government representatives are also involved. You could end up losing the most. For example, if your veto falls in the Council of the EU and you can be overruled by a majority of your counterparts in tax, financial and foreign policy issues in the future. Some already fear for their own room for manoeuvre. In a joint statement on Monday, 13 governments spoke out against treaty changes and in favor of maintaining subsidiarity. Resistance also comes from right-wing national parties and governments, which are traditionally EU-sceptical and have no interest in a stronger community with additional powers.

What does official Austria want?

The Austrian summary was mixed on Monday. According to Europe Minister Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP), the future conference “did not go as hoped” because too much time was spent on procedural matters and too little on “concrete solutions”. The domestic wish list with regard to EU reform: In terms of procedure, Austria advocates a single seat in the European Parliament, the retention of the principle of one commissioner per member state and for top candidates in the European elections. As far as the fight against the creeping dismantling of democracy is concerned, Edtstadler called for the rule of law to be anchored in the EU treaties. Also not to be missed as Austrian evergreens are the sealing of the EU’s external borders, the acceleration of the accession process in the Western Balkans and the rapid return to the upper limits for national debt (maximum 60 percent of GDP) and inflation (less than two percent).

[SHGMO]

(“Die Presse”, print edition, May 10, 2022)

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