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‘Conference on the Future of Europe’: two years of EU navel-gazing?

With the usual ‘Brussels’ fanfare, European Commission President von der Leyen, European Parliament President Sassoli and Portuguese Prime Minister Costa for the rotating presidency of the European Council signed, March 10, the Joint Declaration of the Conference on the Future of Europe

By: N. Peter Kramer - Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2021

‘Today we are inviting all Europeans to speak up’.
‘Today we are inviting all Europeans to speak up’.

N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column

With the usual ‘Brussels’ fanfare, European Commission President von der Leyen, European Parliament President Sassoli and Portuguese Prime Minister Costa for the rotating presidency of the European Council signed, March 10, the Joint Declaration of the Conference on the Future of Europe (read: European Union).

The conference is an idea of French President Macron to have a series of debates and discussions with people from the 27 member states about the shape of the EU’s future. It took a long time before the Conference could be set in train, allegedly because of COVID-19 obstacles, but really due to answering the question who should chair the operation. Macron promised the position to Belgian MEP Verhofstadt after he had dethroned him as president of the Liberal group in the EP. However, for many member state leaders, Verhofstadt was a bridge too far due to his outspoken ‘federalist’ ideas for the EU.

The construction ultimately chosen for the presidency of the conference is too complicated to explain in brief; but it comes down to putting the presidents of the three main EU institutions in the lead.

During the launch of the conference, President von der Leyen said: ‘today we are inviting all Europeans (read: EU citizens) to speak up’. But the same day, the official EU survey, the ‘Eurobarometer’, showed that in 13* of the 27 member states a majority of people do not want to participate in the initiative. The highest number of ‘no’ was found in Portugal, Prime-Minister Costa’s country at 64 per cent. Also, the initiator of the conference, President Macron, was dealt a significant blow, with 58 per cent of people in France suggesting they do not want to take part.

Wouldn’t it be wiser to follow the advice of Prof. Timothy Gartner Ash, a well-known and obdurate Europhile, to stop the conference? He wrote: ‘Scrap that Conference on the Future of Europe and let the EU focus on what it can really do for its citizens. Only then it will have a future’. ‘The EU is facing one of the greatest challenges of its life’, he continued, ‘EU leaders should not waste time with a navel-gazing conference. On their doors in Brussels, they would better nail the motto of Nike: just do it’.

* Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Spain

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