The second Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe heard from young people on EU change and took stock of progress of other parts of the Conference.
The Conference Plenary session took place on 23 October 2021 in Strasbourg and brought together citizens, representatives of EU institutions, national parliaments, and other stakeholders. The discussions revolved around ideas and reports from the European Citizens’ Panels, the European Youth Event (EYE2021), national panels and events, and the Conference’s multilingual digital platform.
Young people's visions
Representatives from the European Youth Event held earlier in October presented the Youth Ideas Report with the 20 most popular proposals for EU reforms coming out of the event. These included, among others, calls for transnational electoral lists at EU elections, a focus on soft skills and language studies at school, a more coherent EU foreign policy and putting an end to the member states’ right to veto Council decisions.
“If there's one thing you should extract from today's report, it's that young people have a clear vision for the future of Europe and we are here to send this message,” said Martina Brambilla from Italy, one of three spokespersons from the event together with Greta Adamek (Germany) and Tommy Larsen (Denmark).
More contributions needed
The Conference is an inclusive process that counts on all Europeans’ contributions to determine how the EU should change. There have been around 9,000 ideas submitted so far on the Conference’s platform and more than 15,000 comments, Conference co-chair Guy Verhofstadt reported.
“There exists on the platform a wish to be constructive and to improve the EU as a project,” Verhofstadt said. “Some issues that come back regularly on different topics, are the end of unanimity [in decision-making], the strengthening of social dimension [...] and the need to keep diversity and multilingualism as a way to foster a real Europe of the citizens”. The highest number of ideas are in the fields of EU democracy and climate change and the environment.
Many participants in the debate noted that only 15% of the contributors on the platform have identified themselves as women, while 60% have registered as men (about 25% have not disclosed their gender).
“This underrepresentation means that women's priorities have been drowned out by men. How can we claim that all Europeans have been listened to, when the concerns of 50% of the population are missing?” said Elsie Gisslegård from Sweden.
Others expressed worries that given the hundreds of millions of Europeans, citizens’ participation in the initiative is relatively low. There were calls for more awareness raising and communication efforts, with a special focus on women, young people and people in rural areas.
A final report on the findings from the digital platform is expected in December, but Plenary members suggested it should continue to function after that and become a permanent channel for dialogue between institutions and citizens.
Citizens take centre stage in the debate
The Conference Plenary was the first one with a full composition after the four European citizens’ panels chose their representatives at their first meetings that took place in recent weeks. Representatives of Western Balkan countries, which are potential new EU member states, were also invited to participate. Meetings in working groups on 22 October prepared the session’s debates.
Citizens took active part in the discussions on all topics in the remit of the Conference and demanded that their voices be heard. Joémy Lindau, a young man from the French overseas region of Martinique, said: “You are saying that we [young people] are the future. I would like to turn to you and say that you [Plenary members] are the future and we place our hopes on you to listen to what we are calling for.”
The next two meetings of the Plenary will be held on 17-18 December and 21-22 January to discuss the recommendations of the four European citizens’ panels that will wrap up their work by then. Co-chair Verhofstadt underlined that these sessions will have a different setup, with more time for the representatives of the panels to present their conclusions and a debate with other Plenary members on the concrete topics.
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