Members of the CoR commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs – CIVEX – on 26 February held a debate on European values, citizenship and democracy in the framework of the preparation of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The European Union's democratic foundations form one of the seven policy strands of the conference. Local and regional authorities are the keepers of the EU's democratic foundations on a daily basis but they are facing challenges to have them respected. Three external speakers emphasised that European values are at the core of the European project but that one could argue whether a common understanding and acceptance of the values exists. CoR members also exchanged their views on a working document of Ms Borrell Porta (ES/EA) on local and regional authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens which will be one of the key contributions of the CoR to the conference. Final recommendations will be in the CoR's plenary in May.
The conference on the future of Europe will be a two-year process of open, inclusive and transparent debates bringing together citizens, civil society, national, regional and local authorities and European institutions in order to give a new impulse to the European project and to strengthen European democracy. It will be launched on 9 May, Europe Day 2020. The CIVEX commission coordinates the CoR contributions to the conference. The CoR will organise in its commissions thematic debates on topics of relevance for the Conference on the Future of Europe throughout the process of the Conference. The debate on 26 February was on European values, citizenship and democracy.
Introducing the thematic debate on European values, citizenship and democracy, the newly elected CIVEX chair, Mark Speich
(DE/EPP), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs, North Rhine-Westphalia, said that that, to make the Conference on the Future of Europe an opportunity to re-connect the European integration process with citizens, it will have to be conceived as a true dialogue with citizens on the founding values and principles of our Union. "In this respect, the role of local and regional authorities is important, as it is through their decisions and policies that values and principles impact citizens' everyday life," he said. "The Conference must become more than a feedback process, but has also to result in political consequences. The CoR will actively be involved in this process."
Speaking at the debate, Graham Smith
, senior adviser and member of Cabinet of the European Ombudsman
, said that "the largest single topic" faced by the European Ombudsman, which addresses concerns about maladministration at the EU level, "is transparency, which is key to the democratic process". He warned that a lack of transparency allows a "'blame Brussels' culture to flourish". He concluded that the EU does not need "great change". "We need to make better use of what we have", with institutions better shaped to serve citizens.
MEP Pascal Durand (
FR/Renew Europe), Renew Europe coordinator at the European Parliament AFCO committee, said that the Conference has not got off to a good start, with EU institutions divided on whether the challenge is to improve communications, tweak existing ways of working, or to find new ways to complement representative democracy. He said that the EU's institutions needed to get out of an "inter-governmental logic", adding that, to do so, "external pressure would be needed from NGOs, civil society, and "intermediary bodies like the unions".
Finally, Alberto Alemanno
, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and founder of The Good Lobby
– a non-profit civic start-up committed to equalising access to power for a more plural, inclusive and democratic society – said that the EU offers citizens more opportunities to shape policy than any other jurisdiction in the world, but "the range of options are very little known and very little used". The challenge for the Conference on Future of Europe, he said, is "to join the dots", arguing that "the key is a permanent mechanism that allows citizens to contribute", using pre-existing networks such as those at the local level. He voiced concern that the EU might set aside organised civil society as the price for citizens’ engagement, saying that "even the European Parliament does not suggest a role" for NGOs in assemblies.
Another key moment of today's CIVEX meeting was the presentation by CoR member Mireia Borrell Porta
(ES/EA), Secretary for External Action and the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, of her working document on "Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens" which will be a key contribution of the CoR to the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Ms Borrel Porta about her opinion: "The opinion will propose a structured way to involve citizens in policy-making from local to EU level, and argues how a structured involvement of citizens could contribute to the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe, both to the process and to its conclusions."
In a resolution that was adopted after a debate with European Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica during its February plenary, the CoR called for a genuine open, inclusive and democratic consultation that reaches out to all citizens in all regions and cities.