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COVID-19 crisis has made the need for the Conference on the Future of Europe even more pressing  

​​The Conference must bring concrete political changes, local and regional leaders say  

Members of the European Committee of the Regions debated with Ms Gabriele Bischoff, Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) in the CoR commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs – CIVEX on the way ahead for the Conference on the Future of Europe. For local and regional leaders, the ongoing crisis makes it even more urgent for the European Union to work to become more effective, democratic and closer to citizens. The CoR welcomes the position of the Council issued on 24 June as an important step in moving forward, since it opens the way for negotiations on the governance, the content and the structure of the Conference. But the committee also urges to start the works as soon as the pandemic situation allows. Ms Bischoff reiterated that local and regional leaders should play an important role in this process. 

Already back in July 2019, the European Commission's President proposal to establish a two-year Conference on the future of Europe that intends to give a new impulse to European construction and to strengthen European democracy was welcomed by the CoR. The committee considered legitimate to be actively involved in the process for three reasons: first because it represents the voice of Europe's regions and cities; second because the territorial dimension of citizens' consultations is strengthened via local and regional engagement; third because regions and cities have most experience in citizens' consultations and can provide evidence-based policy content to the thematic debates.

The CoR initiated its new mandate in February 2020 with the adoption of a Resolution on the Conference on the Future of Europe where the key principles for a strong involvement of LRAs in the process were outlined.

The launch of the Conference on 9 May 2020 was delayed due to the covid-19 crisis. On 7 May 2020, the CoR adopted a Declaration on Local and regional authorities as actors of the European response to the COVID-19 crisis and called for the Conference to be convened as soon as possible when the health situation is brought under control, and for a direct engagement with citizens and regional and local representatives on different proposals on how to make the European Union more effective, unified, democratic and resilient.

Mark Speich (DE/PPE), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia and President of the CoR CIVEX commission, stated: „The Conference on the Future of Europe is more needed than ever, but it is more dangerous than ever to just have a listening exercise. There is a climate for cooperation and we have to make use of that. Just an exchange of opinions would undermine that climate. The results of the Conference must have consequences on policies and politics."

Gabriele Bischoff welcomed the Council position issued on 24 June, less than one week after the European Parliament adopted a resolution to urge the Member States to do so in order to be able to start negotiating the modalities of the Conference with the European Commission and the European Parliament She also stressed the important role of the local and regional level:  "With the Conference on the Future of Europe we want to go out of the Brussels bubble and reach out to citizens and regions in an innovative way. We are interested in their vision of the European Union for the future, their priorities and the policy areas where they wish to have more or different action from the European level. Europe is at crossroads. It can go back to the „old normal“ or it can use the opportunity to embark on a full recovery and relaunch of this fantastic European project. It is time for a new courageous „Schuman-moment“.

Moreover, Members of the CIVEX commission debated on the opinion "Strengthening local governance and representative democracy via new digital technology instruments". It highlights in particular the usefulness of digital tools for participatory democracy. The Conference as an opportunity to test digital participatory tools to strengthen representative democracy, gain citizens' trust and integrate regional and municipal examples where citizens are involved in deliberative processes and on their feedback mechanisms.

CoR rapporteur Rait Pihelgas (EE/Renew Europe), Mayor of Järva municipality, said: "When we talk about the modern democracy, we should limit ourselves to participatory democracy only. The citizen engagement has to be a continuous process. When we are observing how local, regional and national authorities engaging with their citizens, the methods they use - newspaper, homepage and public meetings - are the same as they used 20 years ago. Indeed, they also engage through different social media platforms, but seldom use the new and modern participation tools available. Local, regional and national governments must transform their communication and engagement efforts closer to the citizens. People use mobile devices daily. We can develop and improve engagement and democracy through modern technological tools".

The final recommendations of this opinion are scheduled for adoption at the CoR October 2020 Plenary.

Contact:

Marie-Pierre Jouglain
Tel: (+32) 0473.524.115​