The need for the Participation of the European Movement in the Conference on the Future of Europe

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On 9 February the Spanish Federal Council of the European Movement celebrated the seventy-second anniversary of its creation at Basque Nationalist Party headquarters in Paris in 1949, and for this reason we have just published the book El Movimiento Europeo. A Meeting Point for Spaniards, 1949-2021 (Madrid, Catarata, 2021), which brings together a series of reflections by important members of our Movement on the historical work of the CFEME that show how europeanism has been a meeting point for Spanish democrats, first in the fight against the Franco dictatorship, then reaching agreements during the political transition, then contributing to Spain’s accession to the European Community; and nowadays we are at the forefront of the debate on the European Union in our country and, therefore, in the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE).

Throughout January and February 2021, after many delays, it seems that the horizon is finally clearing, allowing for an inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council; and the Conference is expected to be called for 9 May 2021 in Strasbourg, at the seat of the European Parliament. This is one year after the first conference, which was scheduled to be held in Dubrovnik, under the Croatian Presidency, on the same day in 2020, but which, due to the pandemic and the lack of agreement between the three institutions, especially with regard to who would chair the conference, could not be convened.

The deadlock has been broken thanks to a proposal by the Portuguese Presidency that the Conference will be chaired by a triumvirate made up of the presidents of the three institutions, on the understanding that the President of the Council will, in turn, hold the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. So Portugal will begin, followed by Slovenia, and in the first half of 2022 it will fall to the Republic of France presided over by Emmanuel Macron. It seems that it has also been decided that the Conference on the Future of Europe will last only one year instead of two, so that its conclusions can be ready before the French presidential elections.

In this regard, European organised civil society has been advocating in recent years the opening of a process of reflection on the future of the European Union, with the aim of debating what reforms the Union needs. This demand was taken up by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at her investiture on 16 June 2019 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which now looks set to host this conference, when she stated that «the Conference on the Future of Europe should bring together citizens (with a strong presence of young people and civil society) and European institutions as equal partners […]; I am ready to follow up on what the Conference agrees, including through legislative measures if appropriate. I am also open to reform of the Treaties».

As a result, the Spanish Federal Council of the European Movement has for more than a year been addressing the need to convene the Conference on the Future of Europe and demanding its participation in it. Thus, in the Declaration approved by the Executive Committee of the CFEME on 20 January 2020, we already claimed that «certain associations of European civil society, such as the International European Movement, should actively participate insofar as the latter was the promoter, together with the Union of European Federalists, of the Hague Congress of 1948, an initiative that led to the launching of the project that today constitutes the European Union».

Likewise, in point 8 of this Declaration we add that «we understand that the CFEME is one of the sections of the International European Movement which, given its historical trajectory since its creation 70 years ago and its presence both in Spain and in Europe defending the federal deepening of Europe, should be singularly present at the Conference […]. It is one of the few or the only Spanish civil society organisation dedicated to European integration that has representation and headquarters in practically all the Autonomous Communities’.

This statement is amply justified in the book to which we referred at the beginning.

A few months later, in view of this commitment, the CFEME set out to bring the debate on the future of Europe, the why and what for of the Conference, as well as its objectives, composition, scope, structure and functioning to the Spanish public. Of all the reflections organised, the debate held in the Congress of Deputies on 28 February 2020 and the Autonomous Regional Advisory Council in Yuste on 6 and 7 March of the same year, where we insisted on the aforementioned Declaration, stand out. The book The Citizens’ Debate at the Conference on the Future of Europe. A los 70 años de la Declaración Schuman (Madrid, Marcial Pons, 2020) is the result of these reflections.

More than 70 authors participated in it, representing all the political forces in Spain, including three presidents of National Councils of the International European Movement and representatives of the social partners, employers and trade unions, with a broad territorial representation, from at least three different generations, and in which a certain gender balance was also sought.

The same issue of the newsletter contains an extract from a chapter by the well-known Professor of International Public Law at the Complutense University, Araceli Mangas, who in an extensive work entitled «European Union, back to the future after the pandemic» states that «civil society, through so many qualified associations concerned with the European project and policy, are the backbone of our society, they are the essential support for our integration, civil society and not political parties should be in the plenary session of the Conference.

At the beginning of 2021 there is concern in the European Movement, both international and our own, due to the information that has come to light regarding the content of the inter-institutional Declaration on the composition, scope, working method and governance of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The perception is therefore emerging that the Conference may not have the characteristics to which the President of the European Commission committed herself at her investiture in 2019.

Until now we understood that organised civil society and citizens were going to participate on an equal footing with the institutions. However, this situation is now in doubt, and it is particularly alarming to learn that a large part of the composition of the representation of citizens in the CoFoE will be drawn by lot instead of the representation of organised civil society. Furthermore, the need to establish so-called «agoras», which will be made up of civil society and which prevent the direct participation of civil society, is not fully understood.

Nor is it understandable that decisions within the Conference must always be taken by consensus and that there is no possibility that they can be taken by majority, even if they are qualified majorities. The participation of young people in the Conference, which for the president should have a «principal character», also seems to be devalued, given that they will not participate directly, but through the so-called «youth agoras», in which only some of their representatives will participate in the plenary, in order to convey the conclusions of the previous youth debates.

It is also worrying that the scope of the Conference is being limited and that only policy change is being considered, expressly excluding the possibility of reforming the Treaties, in other words, reforming the institutions and the system of competences. It is important to remember once again that the Conference is a new instrument which precedes the European Convention and that its purpose is to hear civil society and the citizens, and it must therefore be distinguished from the composition and role of the European Convention, since the latter is currently included in Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union as a procedure for reforming the Treaties, and does not therefore constitute a pre-Convention

We are aware that during 2020, and largely as a consequence of the pandemic, important steps have been taken in the silent federal integration, which nobody expected, thanks to the impetus of the European Parliament, the initiative of the European Commission and the decision of the Council. The result has been the Recovery Plan, the joint purchase and distribution of vaccines or the almost doubling of the multiannual financial budget 2021-27 from 1.8% of the European GDP. However, the institutions and especially some Member States seem unwilling to address the formal changes, to enable the implementation of these advances through the proposals to be addressed at the European Conference, largely thanks to the adoption of the new concept of «European sovereignty».

The CFEME, which continues to be the meeting place for the people of Spain, together with the national sections of the International European Movement, has a historical legitimacy given to us by our presence at the birth of the European project 73 years ago at the Congress of The Hague. For all these reasons, we also demand to participate and be heard on an equal footing in its reform. As advocated in the book that we announced at the beginning of this article, allow us to insist on the need for direct participation in the plenary session of the Conference, albeit with several other European civil society organisations, in order to be able to debate face to face with the representatives of the institutions.

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I would like to recall the Twitter messages we posted on the morning of 9 February in support of High Representative Josep Borrell for his trip to Russia, before the debate in the European Parliament where almost a hundred MEPs called for his resignation. In them we said: «Patxi Aldecoa: I disagree with the unfounded criticisms in some media that consider the trip of @JosepBorrellF to Moscow as nefarious; and in turn against the almost one hundred MEPs criticising the trip to Russia […]. It’s time to criticise the Russian Foreign Minister and his regime and to congratulate High Representative @JosepBorrellF for your courage in going to Moscow in the face of an invitation. Explains Borrell: ‘I went to Moscow to reverse the negative trend in our relations’.

Madrid, 11 February 2021

Francisco Aldecoa Luzárraga

President of the Spanish Federal Council of the European Movement

Member of the Board of Directors of the European Movement International

Professor of International Relations at the UCM