Following the Treaty of Rome's 60th anniversary celebrations and the publication of the European Commission's White Paper on the Future of Europe, members of the Committee of the Regions’ Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) yesterday debated the issues at stake in creating a new vision for Europe, from the perspective of regions and cities. Participants in the debate, including European Commission representatives, reiterated that the consultation process is as essential as the final outcome and that cities and regions are crucial in driving this wide-ranging exercise forward.
As part of the ongoing political discussions on the future of Europe, European Council president Donald Tusk has asked the CoR. as the voice of cities and regions, to submit its recommendations on the future of Europe. The CoR position will draw from a wide-ranging consultation process called "Reflecting on Europe ", mostly in the form of citizens' dialogues and town-hall debates, to collect citizens' concerns and expectations at the grassroots level. The opinion, due to be adopted in mid-2018, will be drawn up by CoR President Markku Markkula and First Vice-President Karl-Heinz Lambertz. The purpose of yesterday's debate was to take stock of the preparatory process, discuss the latest input from the European Commission and encourage CoR members to further engage in citizens' dialogues in their constituencies. In a second request, the European Commission has asked the CoR to draft an Outlook Opinion, based on the Commission White Paper and the ideas and priorities of Europe's regions and cities, on the future development of our Union.
Opening the debate, Karl-Heinz Lambertz shared his views on the nature of the CoR's "Reflecting on Europe" campaign and how should be conducted: " 'Reflecting on Europe' is not a large-scale public survey, nor another campaign on the achievements of the European project. It is a real dialogue, a desire to expand the debate, mobilise and together generate concrete actions with the citizens. We're not just listening, we are conversing. That is why the process is as important to me as its formal outcome – the adoption of a joint resolution in 2018. This is also why your full participation, as local and regional elected representatives, is an absolute prerequisite to the success of the project ".
Mr Lambertz also highlighted concerns in the current debate on the future of Europe: " I see three main dangers: first, that we focus all our energy on a 'divorce' that we have not chosen and that the Brexit process undermines our European ambitions; second, that the cohesion between our territories and our people is considered as incidental and third, that the debate on a multi-speed Europe actually hides a debate on a multi-directional Europe and takes us all away from such a hard-won common good. "
The next steps will need to be adapted to the ongoing and upcoming developments in the inter-institutional debate, including the recent European Commission's White Paper on the future of Europe . In this regard, a representative from President Juncker's Cabinet commented on the content of the White paper, referring to the fact that, beside the five proposed scenarios, the final outcome may well see a sixth scenario developed on the basis of the results of the debate. He further insisted that "the future of the EU lies in cities and regions" as these are the level of government citizens are most familiar with.
A representative of the European Commission's DG Communication also presented the main conclusions of the last Eurobarometer surveys, focussing on the three following aspects: trust in the institutions, trust in the media, and the rise of populism. He stressed that the results show a widespread loss of trust in the institutions, a trend that is not specific to the EU but that, on the other hand, citizens' confidence in local and regional authorities remains the highest. Against this backdrop, he called on CoR members, in their capacity as local and regional elected representatives, "to help drive the current debate on the future of Europe".
This discussion with the European Commission representatives supplements the debate with MEPs Guy Verhofstadt, Elmar Brok and Jo Leinen, which took place during the March Plenary Session. Moreover, it will feed into a debate with the European Parliament's President Antonio Tajani on the future of Europe, to be held during the CoR plenary session on 11 May. The European Commission's White Paper on a new direction for Europe will also be on the agenda of the next plenary, with a debate with the Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen.
CoR "Reflecting on Europe" initiative
The CoR initiative to consult European citizens directly at the grassroots level is already up and running, with 27 local events organised by the CoR, its members and local and regional partners, in 13 EU countries in 2016, with an overall participation of over 3 200 citizens. This exercise will be further developed throughout 2017, with about 100 local events to be organised across the EU.
A debate on the different aspects of the "Reflecting on Europe" exercise will be organised in every forthcoming plenary session and CIVEX commission meeting. CIVEX will also organise a conference on the "Future of Europe" as part of its external meeting in Caen (France) on 21-22 September.
The CoR will also be launching a public web-based application, including a number of questions related to the future of EU policies, which will be used to collect and present citizens' feedback during local events and citizens' dialogues.
- Agenda of the 13th CIVEX meeting
- CoR's Reflecting on Europe initiative (brochure)
- Photos from the CIVEX meeting
Tel. +32 (0)2 282 24 99