Online Round Table „Enhancing European Democracy – Next Steps Following the CoFoE“

The “Conference on the Future of Europe“ (CoFoE) was designed as an innovative democratic exercise giving citizens a voice in key debates over the future of the European Union (EU). It concluded its work on May 9, 2022, with a total of 49 proposals and over 300 measures, summarised  which were handed in a final report to the Presidents of the EU institutions. The round table focussed on the currently unfolding ambitious and wide-ranging follow-up process that aims to designate a meaningful and effective use of the conference’s results to and further progress in democratic innovation is required and thus to meet public expectations and strengthen citizens’ trust in both the CoFoE and European democracy, clearly a key concern of the CoFoE itself. 

The round table “Enhancing European Democracy – Next Steps Following the CoFoE addressed the important question of what steps have to follow to ensure the CoFoEsuccess along these lines. The Universities of Bonn, Magdeburg, and Passau, in cooperation with the Union of European Federalists and the Spinelli Group in the European Parliament, invited students from across Europe to discuss with experts and representatives of the EU’s member states and institutions – as Sandro Gozi, MEP and president of the Union of European Federalists, put it in few words – what work has to be done and what challenges need to be met after the CoFoE concluded its work. Professor DanielGöler, Jean Monnet Chair of European Politics at the University of Passau, welcomed the panellists and more than 90 participants from across Europe,, emphasizing the need for “an open and interactive dialogue on the outcomes of the conference on the future of Europe“ to make the CoFoE a success. 


Online Round Table 2022

The panellists: Gabriele Bischoff, Sandro Gozi, Julian Fricke, JörgWojahn, Prof. Dr. Eva G. Heidbreder, Prof. Dr. David Göler, Dr. Constantin Schäfer and Daniel Freund. Moderation by Julian Plottka. 


A Challenging and Optimistic Future for Europe 

During the opening statements of the panellists stressed that an open dialogue is crucial to meet the need for an ambitious and comprehensive follow-up to the CoFoE that addresses the different challenges the EU is facing at the moment. Next steps in this process include the possibility of a convention to realise treaty changes as well as less comprehensive instruments to at least reduce unanimity voting in the Council of the EU. Especially the alternatives to the roll back unanimity voting by applying the Passarelle clause were discussed. Daniel Freund, MEP for the Greens, member of the CoFoE and parliamentary co-rapporteur on the follow-up process stressed that there is development, "I definitely see in these last few weeks alone, that there is a very positive dynamic, that more and more governments realize, that this is a conversation we need to have” he said, adding that some Member States were already speaking out in favour of treaty changes. Yet, it was also pointed out that to achieve these key objectives of the EP, there was still a lot of work ahead to convince further Member States. The panellists were very optimistic that solutions will be found and a proper follow-up to the CoFoE will be realized, even if specificities were still to be developed. Gabriele Bischoff, MEP and member of the S&D group, summarized: “the proposals that are on the table, will be taken seriously, will be implemented” and Julian Fricke, Deputy Head at the German Foreign Office, thus representing a governmental view, added to this optimistic outlook the member state commitment that we need to give good feedback to the citizens”. 


Involving the Citizens 

Not only did the panellists agree that the citizens' proposals of the CoFoE ought to be followed up upon, but also that enhancing democracy requires a more extensive and intense involvement of the citizens. One possibility discussed at the roundtable was the contiguous use ofcitizens panels, which Jörg Wojahn, head of the Commission representation in Berlin, described as: “a very powerful, effective and creative tool for deliberative democracy“. Responding toa question from the audience the panellists agreed on the relevance of the inclusion of the youth and Constantin Schäfer, researcher at the university of Löwen and consultant for citizens participation in Europe, highlighted the“very, very refreshing element“ thatyoung citizens’ involvement added to the CoFoE. Equally, Daniel Freund commented on the involvement of civil society in the follow-up to process to the CoFoE that: “including them in the decision making processes, listening to civil society, is absolutely vital in any representative democracy“. In sum, the discussants agreed that in order to enhance European democracy citizens need to be involved in the processes in one way or another. 


Lessons learned from the CoFoE 

While the involvement, and actually even the overrepresentation, of the youth was judged a positive feature, need for improvement was identified regarding other groups of EU citizens at the CoFoE. Other lessons learnt were the need for more resources to facilitate the multilingualism, for more expert involvement, and the need for more specificity of questions discussed. In addition, the public awareness the CoFoE received remained below expectations. Lastly, a question from the audience brought up the shortened time period of the CoFoE. It was pointed out that more time could have given the citizens panels a better chance to discuss the very complex topics and that the different elements of the CoFoE could have been better connected and that an more extensive exchange between panels and plenary could have led to even better recommendations. 


It was worth the effort“ 

TheCoFoE triggered a big new debate with fresh ideas, concepts, avenues for the EU’s immediate and future development. The conference itself and its follow-up process itself expose great involvement that identify needs and solutions in an innovative inclusive format. Professor Eva G. Heidbreder, Jean Monnet Chair at the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, concluded the round table. “It was worth the effort. We have more now than we had before.She highlighted the different responses of the EU institutions and that all actors show a commitment to react and steps to move ahead”. The next steps following the CoFoE are not yet completely clear, their success might remain uncertain for the moment, but an impressive set of ideas and opportunities have been proposed which, as process itself, may enhance European democracy. 

The round table was organized by the Universities of Bonn, Magdeburg, and Passau, in cooperation with the Union of European Federalists and the Spinelli Group in the European Parliament. It was held on the occasion of the parallel seminars on the debate about the EU’s often-cited democratic deficit. 


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