Europe Day | Europe needs a new direction with a permanent dialogue with citizens

Europe Day
9 May 2022
Europe Day | Europe needs a new direction with a permanent dialogue with citizens

We are living in extraordinary times and the European Union will be judged on its efforts to emerge stronger from the current crises. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the face of the EU. At the same time, the climate crisis still poses a threat to humanity and will have dramatic repercussions on the economy and on our societies.

Let’s face it, the EU does not currently have sufficient tools to address the major societal challenges of our time that call for appropriate European solutions: health, climate, economic and social crises. It’s now time to rethink our Union.

Thanks to the Conference on the Future of Europe, which started a year ago, a year later than initially foreseen because of the pandemic, citizens and political representatives from across Europe were able to actively share their greatest concerns, ideas and a diversity of views for the very first time in the history of the European Union. We are proud to have participated in this novel European process combining both participatory and representative democracy.

Europeans have expressed their concerns and have spoken out to tell us which Europe they want to live in.

The Conference on the Future of Europe: a major pan-European democratic exercise

The last plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which took place on 29 and 30 April, adopted the final proposals of the 9 thematic working groups. The 49 proposals, including 325 concrete measures, follow closely the demands of the citizens, as formulated by the 4 European Citizens' Panels and the numerous National Citizens' Panels. This result is considered to be a happy compromise found by all the actors of this conference.

This is just the end of the beginning, with the beginning of an unprecedented democratic adventure round the corner. This exercise proves that a direct dialogue is possible between citizens and the European institutions. However, for this democratic exercise to be complete, there must be a sequel and we must write the next part of this story. We must continue to build together the Europe of the future, a Europe that is fairer, greener and more democratic in the face of the major challenges of our time.

The next part of this democratic adventure should lead a Convention with a view to revising the European Treaties. The European Parliament has already called for this in a resolution adopted ahead of 9 May. Implementing many of the demands formulated during the Conference requires much-needed Treaty changes. Turning a deaf ear to such demands would undermine the essence of the Conference on the Future of Europe. 

More than 300 concrete proposals to change Europe

After a year of debates and good intentions, the Conference on the Future of Europe showed what citizens demand: stronger rights for children and young people, decent wages and working conditions, a minimum income, stronger social dialogue and collective bargaining, affordable housing, fair tax policies, childcare and gender equality, to name a few. All of those are key issues for progressive cities and regions.

Some demands were very concrete, such as in the field of health, where citizens ask to reinforce the resilience and quality of our healthcare systems through strong measures. “Europe must take the lead in the event of the inability of Member States to act alone. Progressive local and regional authorities are asking the European Commission to be able to declare a state of health emergency and to quickly and massively release funds.The pandemic has demonstrated the usefulness of the EU, despite its lack of competence in the field of health”, said our PES Group President Christophe Rouillon, Mayor of Coulaines, France.

Progressive local and regional leaders are satisfied with the work of the Conference, which they believe must not stop here. Indeed, they share the European Parliament's view that the Conference should  pave the way for a Convention that would lead to the revision of the European Treaties with the aim of fundamentally changing the EU and making it more democratic, stronger in the face of international conflicts and better able to respond to environmental, sanitary, social, economic or other challenges.

Our message is clear: more and better functioning Europe is the way forward for the future of our democracy, and this means the revision of the Treaties.

It’s high time to change our Treaties to give a stronger role to cities and regions

The European DNA of our PES Group is indisputable, but this does not prevent us from wanting to change the EU for the better; we believe that treaty changes should consider the extension of the EU’s competences in several policy areas such as health, the rule of law and taxation.

Besides, the revision of the European Treaties should result in more competences for local and regional authorities in EU-decision making processes, because they implement 70% of European legislation. Regions and cities must have a say in the design of European policies, which ultimately take shape at regional and local level.

Today on 9 May, we expect concrete proposals from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to give a solid follow-up to the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Committee of the Regions has long called for the creation of a structured and permanent dialogue with citizens, including local and regional authorities. It’s high time to make it a reality.