Europe’s leaders today launched a heartfelt appeal for citizens to come forward with ideas on how to shape the union’s future, promising “no taboos” and “proper follow-up”.
They said COVID-19 exposed the EU’s major strengths and weaknesses and should provide inspiration on how it should move forward to reach the aspirations of citizens.
Launching the Conference on the Future of Europe in Strasbourg on Europe Day, French President Emmanual Macron said young people made the biggest sacrifices in the COVID-19 pandemic and Europe must now come together to build a better future for them.
Macron said Europe’s “model of solidarity” and “the strength of democracy” were crucial to saving lives in the pandemic, contrasting with what happened in authoritarian regimes that failed to deliver the same results.
Macron said the crisis also showed what had to be improved, particularly Europe’s sovereignty.
“We were divided every time we were dependent on external forces,” he said.
President of the European Parliament David Sassoli shared this sentiment and called for “more Europe”.
“When Europe is aware of its responsibilities, it responds rapidly and coherently,” he said, adding that in order to function more consistently, Europe needs to have a clear remit.
He said the European Parliament needs to be given the “right of initiative” so it can make proposals to the European Commission and the European Council, not just receive proposals.
He said the President of the Commission should also be elected more transparently and Europe must rethink the concept of unanimity in Council which sometimes prevents the union from acting fast.
“A democracy that cannot respond rapidly can be easily attacked,” he said, urging all proposals to be followed up by action.
“If this means an update of our treaties, we need to be brave and be generous. We should not have taboos, we should not be afraid,” he said, adding that health only became a European competence due to the pandemic.
Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa, whose country currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, said this conference was an opportunity to address issues “frankly and openly”.
“This is a conference by citizens for citizens,” he said, adding that citizens did not feel abandoned by Europe during the pandemic and they now recognise the added value of EU action.
“EU citizens want the EU to focus efforts on creating a direct response to the problems citizens face,” he said.
He also stressed the need for Europe to lead the globe when it comes to the protection of the oceans.
“Others have given priority to the Moon or to Mars but we should embrace our oceans,” he said, adding that they covered the largest areas of the planet and were still a great unknown.
Concluding the launch, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said this conference was about citizens creating a shared vision.
“Of course, there is always scepticism and cynicism whenever Europe debates its future. We must ensure this is not an intellectual policy exercise… Nor is it a solution to every problem,” she said, urging an honest debate that is properly follow up.
“The EU must be whatever Europeans want it to be,” she said, adding that this is a chance to find a better balance between the EU being too invasive in people’s lives and at the same time too distant from them.
She said the pandemic was traumatic for everyone and the first step was discussing it, much as Europe did 70 years ago when it decided to embark on peace after war.
“There is just as much at stake now because climate change can rapidly produce the same destructive effects of war,” she said.
Leyen said the EU was at its best when it sets an ambitious goal and reverse engineers its actions.
The EU is calling on all citizens to contribute their ideas on www.futureu.europa.eu so they can then be followed up into a plan of action to be concluded by March 2022.
Will you be sharing your ideas?