‘Enthusiasm in the Citizens’ Panels is great, expectations are high, the formula is working’

Second Future of Europe citizens panel, former Belgian PM and liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt finds heightened enthusiasm

Guy Verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt

Citizens’ contributions to the Future of Europe conference were discussed during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Saturday, 23 October. 

Talks covered the EU citizens panels’, national panels and events like the European youth event, and the second interim report on the Future of Europe multilingual digital platform. 

The different national and international events form part of the conference on the Future of Europe, an unprecedentedly democratic type of multi-modal stakeholder consultation where Europeans submit their ideas for what the future of Europe should look like. 

The digital platform has so far collected 8,600 ideas and 14,900 comments from over 31,000 participants, while the citizens’ panels have collectively assembled 800 people from across the EU, and almost 150,000 in 3,180 other events. 

Contributions continue to flow in from the various channels like the multilingual digital platform, local national events and the online EU citizens panel

The citizens’ panels address important topics such as migration, European values, climate change, digital transformation and more. 

“The enthusiasm in the Citizens’ Panels is great, expectations are high, the formula is working,” said former Belgian prime minister and Renew MP Guy Verhofstadt (EP renew Europe).

“Now the Plenary has to find answers to the issues raised, in the form of a shared vision of Europe’s future and concrete deliverables on how we reform the European Union. EU politics have to rise to the occasion.”

Dubravka Šuica, vice president of the European Commission, called the panels a historic moment. “Bringing citizens to the core of European policy making will reinforce our representative democracies, as we set sail towards our common future.”

The take-aways from this second session were numerous: the conclusions of the European Youth Event revealed transnational electoral lists at EU elections, a focus on soft skills and language studies at school, a more coherent EU foreign policy and putting an end to the member states’ right to veto Council decisions as some of the most popular demands from European youths.

The submissions so far reveal a gender-based disparity with over 60% of contributors identifying as male and only 15% identifying as female (25% have not disclosed their gender).

“This underrepresentation means that women's priorities have been drowned out by men. How can we claim that all Europeans have been listened to, when the concerns of 50% of the population are missing?” said Sweden’s youth delegarte to the EU at the National Council of Swedish Youth Organisation, Elsie Gisslegård.

Verhofstadt, who addressed the second citizens’ panel, said the most recurring issues raised related to the end of unanimity in EU decision-making, the strengthening of social dimension in Europe, and the need of diversity and multilingualism to foster “a real Europe of the citizens”.

The final report on this conference is scheduled for December but plenary members suggested that it remain a permanent fixture for dialogue between institutions and citizens.

This plenary session was the first one with a full composition seeing as the four citizens panels had recently selected representatives. Representatives of Western Balkan countries, which are potential new EU member states, were also invited to participate. 

Joémy Lindau, a young man from the French overseas region of Martinique, said: “You are saying that we [young people] are the future. I would like to turn to you and say that you [Plenary members] are the future and we place our hopes on you to listen to what we are calling for.”

The conference remains ongoing with the next plenary meeting scheduled for the 17-18 December and 21-22 January to discuss the recommendations from the four European citizens’ panels that will have concluded their deliberation by then. Verhofstadt underlined that these upcoming sessions will have a different composition, with more time allotted for representatives to present their conclusions and debate with other Plenary members on the best established topics.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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