Europe’s blueprint for the future

The Conference on the Future of Europe ends formally on Monday. A look at the citizens’ proposals outlines what could be the first of the EU’s deliberative democratic assemblies for citizens

Six months of working groups and citizens’ panels have culminated in 325 proposals put forward by Europeans on the future they want for the bloc.

Last week the Conference on the Future of Europe came to a close, with a document of measures and proposals presented across nine chapters. The conference’s final event will take place in Strasbourg next Monday with speeches from European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and current Council President Emanuel Macron.

The final document is the fruit of months of deliberation among citizens from all 27 member states to set the agenda for the EU’s coming years. People were able to participate in events across the bloc and submit ideas on the EU’s multilingual digital platform. On Europe Day, the report will be hande

With the final proposals drafted, we take a look at some of the key highlights from the document and identify what Maltese people contributed to the project.

What did Malta put forward?

Maltese people put forward several ideas and proposals throughout the conference. Many called for a common European army and others raised concern on working conditions and the reintegration of elderly people in the active population.

Regarding migration, many Maltese participants expressed discomfort with unregulated non-EU migration and advocated for a common migration policy at EU level. At one Maltese event people discussed increasing internship opportunities for young people in school.

Many contributed to the subject of digital rights, with calls to ensure internet access for all. However, data privacy was a key concern among participants at an event on health in Malta.

Climate change and the environment

EU countries, especially the warmer states in the south, are starting to grapple with the material effects of climate change such as wildfires and floods. In fact, one of the measures put forward by the conference is to support reforestation and afforestation, including forests lost by fire.

But most of the proposals hinge around sustainable agriculture, enhanced energy security, and better awareness on sustainability and climate change.

Energy independence became a key issue over the winter for the EU. The colder months were dominated by record-high gas prices, and the conflict in Ukraine underlined Europe’s dependence on Russia for its energy imports.

Throughout the conference, EU citizens stated that they want more investments in renewable energy and storage methods while reducing dependencies from oil and gas imports.

For the just transition, citizens said that workers and jobs should be protected throughout. They called for adequate funding for the transition and resource, and a reform of the tax system with fairer taxation and anti-tax fraud measures.

Job well done: CFOE co-chairs MEP Guy Verhofstadt (European Parliament) and Vice-President Dubravka Sucia (European Commission) give each other a celebratory hug
Job well done: CFOE co-chairs MEP Guy Verhofstadt (European Parliament) and Vice-President Dubravka Sucia (European Commission) give each other a celebratory hug

Health

The health recommendations adopted by the conference focus on access to healthy food, strong healthcare systems, and health literacy to promote prevention.

One of the measures concerns medicinal dependency on third countries. One of the National Citizens’ Panel’s recommendations was to ensure strategic autonomy at EU level so that member states avoid becoming too dependent on other countries for medicines and medical devices. This is particularly important for essential and priority medicines, but also for innovative medicines and treatments such as biotechnology solutions.

To increase access to health, people proposed developing first aid courses while improving the general understanding of mental health issues. They further proposed recognising, in terms of taxation, hormonal contraception products for medical reasons such as fibromyalgia and endometriosis.

Economy and jobs

COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine had significant impacts on the EU economy, while transnational challenges like inequality and fair taxation persist. In light of this, European citizens are calling for sustainable economic growth that enhances the competitiveness of the block while deepening the Single Market.

The measures put forward for this include enhancing upward social and economic convergence of the Single Market by completing existing initiatives such as the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union. Citizens also want special attention to be given to SMEs in all new initiatives by adopting the “Think Small First” principle in all EU’s legislative proposals.

Citizens called for more inclusive labour markets to ensure fairer working conditions. One measure wants to ensure that statutory minimum wages can guarantee workers a decent quality of life by adopting clear criteria, such as living costs and inflation, when setting minimum wage levels.

On tax, citizens said that there should be harmonising and coordinating tax policies within the member states to prevent tax evasion and avoidance, avoiding tax havens within the EU and targeting offshoring within Europe.

EU in the world

Several proposals concern the EU’s foreign policy direction and its place in wider geopolitics. Elements to this include strengthening autonomy in key strategic sectors, including in the field of energy production. This includes linking foreign trade with climate policy measures while pursuing common purchases of imported energy and sustainable energy partnerships and developing EU domestic sources of energy.

Citizens proposed building an ethical and environmental dimension to EU trade and investment relations. For example, the EU would restrict imports and sales from countries that allow forced and child labour while establishing partnerships with developing countries and helping them transition towards green energy sources with mutually favourable trade deals.

In terms of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, citizens are keen on changing the decision-making procedure from being one of unanimity to one of a qualified majority. People also called on the EU to strengthen its common security through a joint armed forces that would be used exclusively for self-defence purposes. It would only be deployed outside European borders in exceptional circumstances, preferably under a legal mandate from the UN security council without competing with or duplicating NATO.

Rights, rule of law, security

Last month the European Commission triggered the “conditionality mechanism” against Hungary, a process by which Hungary’s funds will be slashed due to its rule-of-law breaches. This was the first time the mechanism was used since it came into force in January 2021.

In light of this, citizens said that the EU must effectively apply the conditionality regulation and evaluate its scope, even considering extensions to new areas regardless of their relevance for the EU budget.

Where media is concerned, citizens want the EU to strictly enforce competition rules in the media sector to prevent large media monopolies and ensure media pluralism and independence from undue political, corporate or foreign interference. They further proposed more awareness on disinformation and unintentional dissemination of fake news through mandatory school trainings on media literacy.

On living conditions, citizens called for EU-wide criteria on anti-discrimination in the labour market and incentivising private companies to employ people that are usually most subject to discrimination, such as youths, elders, women and minorities. The incentives could take the form of subsidies or temporary quotas.

Digital transformation

Digital literacy and access to the internet were key recommendations made at the conference. People want to ensure that fast, affordable, secure and stable internet access can be provided everywhere in the EU, with children, families, elder people and vulnerable groups considered a priority.

Citizens also proposed strong cybercrime responses against large scale attacks. This would be done by increasing the financial and human resources of Europol and the European Cybercrime Center and building joint European cyber defence capabilities against large scale attacks. Another layer to this is to ensure similar sanctions and quick enforcement in member states in the event of a cybercrime attack.

COVID-19 propelled remote working as a viable and mainstream alternative to traditional office working. On this, citizens want the EU to pursue initiatives that support remote working, such as through digital training and providing resources for ergonomic equipment for home offices.

European democracy

The Conference on the Future of Europe has often been described as an unprecedented democratic exercise, and citizens want to make sure that such democratic participation becomes a regular feature even between European elections.

One measure put forward includes periodical citizens’ assemblies, where participants are selected randomly, with representativeness criteria, to inform decisions taken by EU institutions. If the outcome of an assembly is not taken on board by the institutions, the decision should be duly justified.

On more direct democratic issues, citizens called for EU-wide referendums to be carried out in exceptional cases on matters particularly important to all European citizens. Such referendums would have to be triggered by the European Parliament. They also want EU electoral law amended to harmonise electoral conditions like voting age and election date among member states for the European Parliament elections, including a shift towards Union-wide lists.

Another measure calls for the European Parliament to be granted the right of legislative initiative and the ability to decide on the budget of the EU. Regarding the EU decision-making process, citizens seem to shun unanimous voting and instead want issues to be decided on by way of qualified majority, expect when admitting new members to the bloc or changing treaties.

And to the delight of those who, understandably, confuse the European Council with the Council of the European Union, citizens recommended that the EU should change the names of certain institutions to clarify their functions. For example, the Council of the EU could be called the Senate of the EU, or the European Commission could be called the Executive Commission of the EU.

Migration

On legal migration, citizens want a European entity to be set up for migrants’ access to the EU labour market while promoting upwards convergence on working conditions harmoniously throughout the union. With regards to irregular migration, citizens expect the EU to participate actively in places outside the EU from where there is is a high outflux of migrants.

Beyond this, citizens proposed increasing EU financial, logistical and operational support for the management of first reception to better integrate refugees and regular migrants in the EU, or repatriation of irregular migrants from the bloc.

People also want the Dublin system to be revisited in order to guarantee solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including the redistribution of migrants among member states. Additionally, they propose that asylum seekers with relevant qualifications should be given access to the labour market.

Youth and culture

During the conference citizens said the EU should focus on the specific needs of young people across all relevant policies. To do this, people suggested having citizens’ panels with children aged 10 to 16 in schools to help inform decision-making processes.

People further proposed putting an end to youth minimum wages across the bloc and banning unpaid internships on the labour market and outside formal education. They went on to recommend specific policies to avoid brain drain, a measure most relevant for Malta where small size offers limited opportunities for young people.

European exchange programmes like Erasmus+ and DiscoverEU are some of the union’s flagship initiatives, and citizens want the EU to strengthen these programmes to ensure more widespread and diverse participation in such programmes. They also suggested adding new elements to these initiatives, such as a civic service objective or cultural passes.

READ MORE: Conference on the Future of Europe: EU leaders address citizen assembly

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

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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