N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
The official kick-off of the Conference on the Future of Europe (read: EU) took place on May 9, Europe Day, in Strasbourg. The Conference should initiate a European Union-wide discussion about the where and for what of the Union. The run up to the start was ‘bumpy’ to say at least. For no less than a year, the various EU institutions argued with each other about who should lead the ‘citizens’ dialogue’. Initially, the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt seemed predestined for this role. The idea for the Conference came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who set aside Verhofstadt as President of the Liberal group (ALDE now Renew Europe) in the European Parliament and therefore offered him the Conference leadership as a consolation.
Bur the resistance to Verhofstadt among the member states was so enormous that months were spent discussing an alternative. ‘Everyone except Guy’, as an EU diplomat described the situation. The reason was that Verhofstadt is an outspoken euro-federalist: all power to ‘Brussels’ and seeing member states as a kind of ‘EU provinces’.
The solution now is that the leadership of the Conference is divided among the three main EU institutions: Council, Parliament and Commission. As a result, nine chairmen (among them Verhofstadt!) have been appointed, along with an army of observers.
Even before it started, the Conference had become a caricature of itself. It is still unclear exactly how the input of the participants will ultimately be processed! A fierce battle has been raging on this issue, resulting in a compromise that pushes the decision back until after the end of the Conference.
The start in Strasbourg was also a farce. After speeches by the Presidents of the three institutions, it was the turn of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to have their say. Unlike everyone else the ten minutes allotted speaking time was not enough for Macron whose grandstanding took twice as long – much to the chagrin of the other speakers. Viva ‘Europa’!