[WATCH] Europe must change now, it’s a matter of survival: Verhofstadt to ‘Future’ conference

“This is now a matter of survival, and the Conference offers us the proposals for us to continue on this road, for Europe not to disappear”

Guy Verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt

The co-chair of the Conference for the Future of Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, has paid tribute to one of the EU’s most ambitious of citizen assemblies, whose proposals for the EU were now a “matter of survival”.

In between praise for European values and the CFOE’s ambitious experiment in deliberative democracy, Verhofstadt – a former Belgian prime minister and liberal democrat MEP (Renew) – sounded a stark warning for Europe.

Verhofstadt evoked the difference between Russia’s “delirium of militarism” on 9 May, contrasted with the EU’s renewed commitment to its peace project on Europe day where it was formally starting its roadmap for change.

He said that in a future of ‘empires’ and superpowers led by emboldened nations like China and revanchism from Russia, only a united European bloc and integration could allow Europeans to fully enjoy their values and liberties. “This is now a matter of survival, and the Conference offers us the proposals for us to continue on this road, for Europe not to disappear.”

Verhofstadt also paid tribute to the citizens’ assembly that created the proposals for the Future of Europe, saying this kind of deliberative democracy was “the antidote to the algorithms of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg” – the owners of Twitter and Facebook – “who only see people as ‘profiles’.”

He described the process, which he co-chaired with European Commissioner Dubravka Suica, difficult, passionate and “sometimes frightening”.

But he said the 49 themes and 300 proposals that citizens and MEPs are presenting to the Commission and the European Council would make the Union more democratic, “a Union that can act rapidly, and in a more decisive manner when tackling the challenges of tomorrow.”

He also said that even in face of Eurosceptic opposition to the EU project, the vast participation of European citizens in the process showed a different face to this view.

“The reality is indeed different – everyone loves Europe, all the citizens believe in the European project, but most people are of the opinion that the EU doesn’t currently fulfil their dream. They may love Europe, but they are hugely critical of the working of the Union, and sometimes, I would say for good reason.

People don’t fear change: the urge is to change the Union, and they want it to happen now.”

Conference programme

One of the European Union’s most ambitious of citizen assemblies officially comes to an end today on Europe Day, with 49 proposals that include over 300 measures on how to achieve change within the Union.

Led by expert panellists and randomly-selected citizens who congregated across various conferences all over Europe in the last year, the proposals are supported by the European Parliament.

In Strasbourg today, the Conference on the Future of the Europe will be addressed by its co-chairs MEP Guy Verhofstadt and European Commissioner Dubravka Šuica, with interventions from citizens who participated in the CFOE, as well as speeches from European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and French president Emanuel Macron, who holds the Council presidency.

MEPs have acknowledged that the “ambitious and constructive proposals” that came out of the Conference require Treaty changes.

This will require the EP’s committee on constitutional affairs to prepare the proposals to reform the EU Treaties, which must happen through a Convention.

MEPs also supported the proposal for a right of legislative initiative for Parliament and by ending unanimity in Council.

The CFOE has been remarkable in giving a forum for citizens’ expectations, priorities, and concerns in an unprecedented exercise in participatory democracy.

Many MEPs also said citizens need to be involved more alongside stronger democratic representation at EU level.

The Conference Plenary adopted its 49 proposals on 30 April 2022. These include more than 300 measures across 9 themes and were based on 178 recommendations from the European Citizens’ Panels, input from the National Panels and events, ideas from the European Youth Event, and 43,734 contributions on 16,274 ideas recorded on the multilingual digital platform.

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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 action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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