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Guy Verhofstadt: “Conference on the Future of Europe necessary to put pressure on the EU”

Future of Europe / PRESS RELEASE
European Policy Centre

Date: 16/06/2021
Brussels, 16 June 2021 - At the first edition of Conference Conversations, MEP Guy Verhofstadt argued that the Conference on the Future of Europe is necessary to put pressure on the EU and prepare it for the future. The event was part of the launch of the Conference Observatory, a new initiative that will monitor, analyse and advise the Conference. 

He said that despite the difficulties and delays, it is necessary to have the Conference now "to create a pressure that cannot be denied anymore" and force institutional reform. Calling the Conference's governance a "bureaucratic nightmare", he emphasised that it is still a unique exercise, the "first time there is a common initiative of the three EU institutions, supported by all national parliaments, and involving citizens. Everyone will be there."

The first edition of Conference Conversations also featured Mehreen Khan, EU correspondent for the Financial Times, Dominik Hierlemann, Senior Expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung, and Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre. Moderated by Jacki Davis, they held a frank debate about the set-up, promise and hoped-for results of the Conference.

Khan questioned whether the Conference could fix the lack of legitimacy of some the Union's epoch-defining pieces of legislation on climate and digital issues and whether it could have an impact without an explicit agreement between the EU institutions on the desired outcome: "The Commission, for instance, seems to be taking a risk-averse approach to the Conference", seeing it as a "listening exercise", and added that they "need to be held accountable."

This Conference Conversations marked the official launch of the Conference Observatory, a joint initiative from Bertelsmann Stiftung, the European Policy Centre, Stiftung Mercator and the King Baudouin Foundation. It aims to make the Conference a meaningful and successful endeavour by monitoring its proceedings, providing policy input and recommendations on the strategic priorities that citizens will discuss, and assessing the potential institutional and legal consequences of debates conducted during the Conference.

Based on the lessons learned, the initiative also hopes to develop proposals to improve the EU's future participatory and democratic architecture. Conference Conversations will be a recurring activity under the Observatory and will examine, in an interactive way, core questions surrounding the Conference and whether we can expect it to significantly influence the debate about the EU's future.

Dominik Hierlemann, Senior Expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung: "The Conference on the Future of Europe will only be a success if it creates a bigger public debate. If it is covered in Brussels darkness and remains unnoticed in member states, it will fail. With the Conference Observatory, we want to create a go-to place for all those interested in the Conference."

"It is important that we try and make the best out of the Conference on the Future of Europe,” added EPC Director of Studies Janis A. Emmanouilidis. “Despite some of its design flaws, it can serve to test citizen participation on a larger scale in the EU, bring citizens closer to decision-making in 'far-off Brussels' and provide fresh ideas on where the European project should go next. With the Conference Observatory, we will monitor, assess and advise the Conference and, overall, try to make sure that it will make a difference.”

Stay tuned for future Conference Conversations episodes, which be held in parallel with the Conference. We will be inviting our audience to take part by asking them to help us choose topics and by encouraging them to enter into the conversation with our speakers.

Check out our website for more details on the Conference Observatory initiative, and keep up-to-date on the latest developments via our Twitter account.

The recording of the event is available here.

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