Over the past years, EU institutions, member states and citizens have faced what, at times, felt like unsurmountable challenges to steer the bloc through a number of critical crises. With Angela Merkel’s warning in 2010 that “if the euro fails, we all fail”, 2015’s midnight summits to prevent Greece from exiting the eurozone, the sudden and irregular arrival of over 1.6 million migrants in Greece and Italy, increasing attacks on the rule of law and the multilateral world order, and the challenges of global impacts of technology and climate change, the EU has become accustomed to dealing with serious threats. EU leaders have gained valuable skills in crisis management, not to mention the ongoing process surrounding the UK’s departure from the bloc.
With the EU institutions often unable to effectively respond to fast-paced internal and external challenges, its leaders largely agree that a strategy on future-proofing the European project for the years and decades to come is necessary. It was in this context that ahead of last May’s European Parliament elections, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ which would allow EU citizens and institutions to come together to shape the future of the European Union. This call was echoed by European Commission President-elect during her confirmation opening statement to European Parliamentarians in July 2019.
Following the approval by the European Parliament of Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s Cabinet of Commissioners, this week saw the initial steps towards the project. On Tuesday, the Franco-German alliance shared a ‘non-paper’ on key questions and guidelines for the ‘prompt and necessary’ Conference on the Future of Europe.
The discussion paper calls on the institutions to overhaul nearly all aspects of how the EU functions, including considering possible treaty changes and electoral process changes, with a goal of making the bloc “more united and sovereign” in years to come. In this view, the conference, which will be chaired by a ‘senior European personality’ should address all issues at stake and focus on identifying specific areas for reform.
With Germany and France holding the rotating Presidencies of the Council of the EU in the second of half of 2020 and the first half of 2022 respectively, the plan foresees a two-phased approach based on an inter-institutional mandate. Under the Franco-German proposal, phase one, which would occupy the first half of the coming year, would address issues around EU democratic functioning. Phase two, subsequently launched under the Germany Presidency and finalised under the French, would focus on strategic policy priorities for the Union.
The paper proposes that European leaders consider the plans for discussion at the next European Council Summit in December and kick-start the process as early as January.