This Sunday, the European Union will hold its Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFE) at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This meeting, which comes a year late due to the coronavirus pandemic, coincides with Europe Day. The event will last 90 minutes and will begin with a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is considered the "father" and driving force behind the idea. In addition to Macron, the conference will include speeches by David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament; Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission; and Antonio Costa, Portuguese Prime Minister. Portugal is the current representative of the Council of the European Union.
In addition to politicians, European citizens will be able to contribute to the event via videoconference. Another highlight is that 27 Erasmus students, one from each Member State, will attend the conference. The Erasmus programme is one of the European Union's greatest achievements, which aims to raise awareness among young people of the importance and opportunities offered by the European Union.
The last time a similar event was held in 2002, citizens were not able to participate directly. Instead, the participation of Europeans is one of the goals of the current conference. EU leaders have said they want "citizens to join the dialogue and have their say on the future of Europe". They have also jointly pledged to "listen to Europeans and follow up on the recommendations made". Brussels' commitment to citizen participation on the future of Europe was boosted in April, when the institutions launched a multilingual interactive digital platform for Europeans to have their say on the future of the continent. "We invite Europeans to speak out and tell us what kind of Europe they want to live in," said Ursula von der Leyen.
The themes of the event will be developed around three blocks: Democracy, civic participation, fundamental rights and values; a social, sustainable, creative and prosperous Europe; and Europe's role in the world. European representatives will focus on the democratic strengthening of EU institutions, climate change, economic issues, digital transformation and some foreign policy challenges. "The convening of this Conference is a message of confidence and hope for the future that we send to Europeans: hope that together we will build a fair, green and digital Europe," said Antonio Costa.
The management of the coronavirus and solutions to mitigate its social and economic effects will play a key role at the conference. "We cannot go back to the world before the pandemic, we need more democracy, more solidarity, a more ambitious Europe," said David Sassoli. The President of the European Parliament added that the social pillar must be "a main feature of the European identity".
The European Union is one of the most relevant actors in the international community, and for this reason, foreign policy and how it will be formulated will also be present during the event. For the future, Europe will have to strengthen and establish relations with major powers such as the United States and China. It will also have to map out the future ties it will develop with the UK now that it is no longer a member of the EU. The same goes for Turkey, a key country in EU migration policies. Moreover, the recent escalation of tension on the Russian-Ukrainian border has included Kiev as an EU ally as the EU distances itself from Moscow.
The event will also feature speeches from other European leaders, including Guy Verhofstadt MEP, Dubravka Suica, Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography, and Portugal's Secretary of State for European Affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias.
Suica will play an important role because of her position and its relation to the objectives of the conference. Days before the event, the Croatian politician alluded to European scepticism, one of the great internal challenges facing the EU. Suica defined this phenomenon as "unfortunate populism". In recent years, Brussels has had to deal with the rise of political extremism within member states. What these currents have in common is European scepticism. For Suica, it is essential to know what citizens think in order to "act accordingly".
The European institutions will monitor the objectives set during the conference, and the conclusions are expected to be presented in the spring of 2022. Sassoli hopes that these results will reach citizens "in cities, regions and remote rural areas". The reforms resulting from the conference will have a 10-20 year horizon.
In addition to political speeches and citizen participation, there will be musical performances by violinist Renaud Capuçon and the Kars quartet on the occasion of Europe Day. For this reason, different places in Europe will also be contacted and events will be broadcast.