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Legacy of the Conference of the Future of Europe rests on 'implementation'  

​​Deliberative democracy, culture and municipal and regional programmes identified at Timișoara conference as critical to Europe's efforts to promote active citizenship.

The European Union's experiment in citizen-driven legislation, the Conference on the Future of Europe, needs to be followed through with "implementation, implementation, implementation" to show citizens that the proposals that emerged are being taken into account in the EU's future policies and institutional changes.

The calls came at a conference organised on 19 September by the European Committee of the Regions in Timișoara, at which a mix of praise, frustration and urgency was heard from politicians, experts and a Romanian citizen who took part in the Conference on the Future of Europe between April 2021 and May 2022.

Claudiu Marian Vatau, a resident of Timișoara who was one of the 800 citizens selected for four citizens' panels within the Conference on the Future of Europe, said he was "confident" that the time he spent was "not wasted time" and that the process's outcomes "will be implemented, be it today, tomorrow or in a reasonable span of time". During the Conference on the Future of Europe process, another 800 citizens' panels contributed input that was then considered by four citizens' panels and representatives of European, national, regional and local levels of government, resulting in 49 proposals.

Adina Trunk of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) lauded the initiative by the European Union, calling it "innovative, inspirational and important at a time when trust in democracy was sliding back" and a "testament to Europe's trust in democracy". What is needed now, she said, is "implementation, implementation, implementation" to "show that something has been done with the results".

Colin Scicluna – one of the co-organisers of the Conference on the Future of Europe in his capacity as head of cabinet for Dubravka Šuica , European Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography – argued that the Conference on the Future of Europe had underscored how important "deliberative processes" are. "Citizens need to feel empowered and we need to give them enough space," he said, adding that cities and regions have a "key role" and "this space needs to be claimed".

The conference in Timișoara came nine months before elections to the European Parliament, in June 2024, and at a point when, according to Mr Scicluna "we see a geography of discontent that is developing, in a slow way perhaps, but certain". A range of speakers emphasised the need to build on the Conference on the Future of Europe to embed more participatory approaches into democratic processes across the continent.

The conference looked particularly at the role of culture and education in supporting civic engagement, a focus reflected in the conference's title: "​​Implementing the proposals of the Conference on the Future of Europe: strengthening European citizenship through promoting European identity and democratic values."

The mayor of Timișoara, Dominik Fritz, drew on the experience of his city – a European Capital of Culture this year – to argue that "diversity generates prosperity" and that "the whole idea of active citizenship is bolstered by culture, but doesn't remain in the cultural sphere".

A long history of cultural openness in the city, he argued, helps to explain why the Romanian revolution in 1989 began in Timișoara and why local leaders in early 1990 issued a declaration in which they called on all "chauvinists" in Romania "to come to Timișoara to a re-education course in the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, the sole principles reigning in the future European House". "The story of Timișoara is a story of how cities and regions have contributed and are contributing to Europe", Mayor Fritz said, arguing that "some of the answers to the future of Europe come from the cities of eastern Europe".

The contention that culture bolsters civic participation is supported by "surprisingly" robust findings, the conference was told by William Hammonds of Ecorys, author of a study on 'Culture and democracy, the evidence' commissioned by the European Commission. That conclusion – drawn from a review of existing research – is particularly important as rates of civic participation vary significantly across the European Union. "Culture is a foundation for democracy. It is worth the time and the effort and the investment to support [it] as part of any future dialogue in this space," he concluded.

​​The CoR pilot project "Promoting EU values through education and culture'' showcases over 120 best practices at local and regional level, and a number of towns and cities involved – Veszprém in Hungary, Merano in Italy, Mafra in Portugal, Coulaines in France, and Timișoara – presented their work.

Other speakers at the meeting included:

  • CoR members: the host Alin-Adrian Nica (RO/EPP), president of Timiş County Council; Patrick Molinoz (FR/PES), Vice-president of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Region and chairman of the CIVEX Commission; Tanya Hristova (BG/EPP), mayor of Gabrovo, chair of the CoR SEDEC Commission; Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES), mayor of Coulaines and president of the PES group; Helder Sousa Silva (PT/EPP), mayor of Mafra, ; and Barbara Hegedűs (HU/ECR) of Veszprém city council;
  • Luca Niculescu, Secretary of State in Romania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
  • Members of the European Parliament: ​​ Maria Grapini (RO/S&D); Siegfried Mureşan (RO/EPP), by video message; and Victor Negrescu (RO/S&D), vice-chair of the committee on Culture and Education, by video message;
  • Member of the CoR's Young Elected Politicians network: Diana Mardarovici (RO/EPP), member of Bucharest City Council; and Kathrin Werth (IT/Greens), City councillor in Eppan an der Weinstraße /Appiano sulla Strada del Vino;
  • Uwe Koch, president of Europa Nostra Germany.
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