CoFoE, a springboard for European democracy?

The Conference on the Future of Europe – CoFoE – was officially launched on May 9. Scheduled to last one year, its ambition is to allow “every” citizen to participate in the debate on the future of Europe. In a context of growing mistrust of the institutions, the backdrop of Brexit, the challenge is considerable. And for the CoFoE to be an effective success, i.e. for the voice of Europeans to be heard, Citizens’ Panels will soon be set up.

The objective of the Conference on the Future of Europe is to allow all European citizens to express their views on the European project and to shape more actively the European Union and its main orientations in the next 20 years. The CoFoE is composed of a series of discussions, debates and dialogues: a digital platform for contributions The future is yours, Citizens’ Panels and a Plenary assembly that will ensure that the recommendations made by the citizens are debated. The Conference will last for one year and will lead to a restitution in spring 2022, under the French presidency of the Council of the European Union.

800 citizens from the 27 EU countries

The Citizens’ Panels will therefore meet for three days to discuss climate, health, migration or democracy. They will be representative of the diversity of the European population (age, gender parity, socio-professional categories…) and, in order to allow free expression, the exchanges will take place in the 24 official languages of the EU. They will formulate a series of recommendations for the Plenary assembly, which the Union will have to follow up.  The Plenary assembly will meet three to five times and will be composed of representatives of European institutions and bodies, national parliamentarians, representatives of civil society and – an important innovation – members of the Panels.

To produce a meaningful set of recommendations, the citizens of the Panels will enter into an interactive process: they will have to agree to disagree, listen to experts and practitioners, discuss with citizens from all over Europe, hear the results of the events organized all over Europe and the contributions coming from the digital platform, and make recommendations on topics that are not everyday issues for them.

For this democratic exercise to be successful, the Panels will adhere to a set of quality criteria developed and tested by participation practitioners and academics over the past 50 years, since the first citizen deliberation exercises were organized in Europe and the United States: Inclusiveness, for example, which calls for ensuring that participants reflect the diversity of their country’s population and that everyone feels comfortable intervening. The recommendations of the Panels will serve as a lever for the Plenary Assembly: by their qualitative, argued and solid nature, the recommendations will give the Plenary the opportunity to formulate courses of action that are both ambitious and anchored in European society.

The upcoming exercise is unique in the world in its ambition and complexity. Missions Publiques is contributing to this adventure by coordinating the design and implementation of the Panels with its partners – and at the service of the Conference.

Working towards the success of the CoFoE

The upcoming exercise is unique in the world in its ambition and complexity. Missions Publiques is contributing to this adventure by coordinating the design and implementation of the Panels with its partners – and at the service of the Conference.

In this context, time will be a fundamental element. Giving citizens an equal opportunity to understand and contribute to these complex issues in a non-binary way on the scale of 450 million inhabitants requires a process that can hardly be achieved in a few days. The average time spent by citizens on platforms is measured in minutes; the average time spent at decentralized events will certainly be measured in hours. The Citizen Panels will take place in a different framework. The sessions planned over a quarter will be significantly different from the decentralized events and the contributions on the platform. They will offer panelists the opportunity to be both a space for inspiration and the “meeting room” for citizens’ contributions to the future of Europe.

In 2018, we accompanied, in France, the citizens’ consultations on the future of Europe launched by the 27 Member States of the European Union and the European Commission. We noted that as the process unfolded, citizens’ vision of Europe evolved. In their conclusions, the citizens had noted that “the European Union could become one of the greatest powers on the planet, and lead to the implementation of solutions to major challenges, everywhere on earth. For this we need the Union to be a reality”.

We look forward to seeing what the citizens of the Union will have to say about the future of their continent.

We will be your go-to resource for the latest developments and analysis on the Citizens’ Panels of the Conference.

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