The Future of Europe
The Conference on the Future of Europe, which concluded last May, was a year-long project bringing together hundreds of citizens from different
EU countries, along with representatives of different EU institutions, 108 MEPS and 108
I was honoured to be one of the four
parliamentarians from Ireland to participate in this important process.
The conference began with thematic discussions in citizens’ panels, similar to Ireland’s Citizens’ Assemblies.
There was also an online portal, where individuals and groups shared their ideas. The conference then set up working groups across each of the key themes.
As a member of the Working Group on Values, Rights and Rule of Law, I was glad to contribute to citizens final recommendations calling for less corporate abuse of media power, better wages, welfare, health and public services and crucially, a long overdue legal strengthening of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,
making its important social, workplace, environmental and political rights “universally applicable and enforceable”.
On climate and the environment, citizens in many different working groups emphasised the need to move away from ‘business as usual’ and towards just transition and sustainability.
This requires changes on agriculture, supply chains, the circular economy, public transport and an urgent shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
There were some themes which proved more controversial however. There was disagreement around different approaches to democratic reform and unfortunately, when it came to the crucial theme of ‘EU In The World’, thoughtful and nuanced proposals from citizens were overridden by a military emphasis which did not reflect the original recommendations. I was particularly unhappy that the blunt language in these new sections did not include appropriate recognition of the existence of neutral countries such as Ireland.
Overall, I was moved to see how many citizens from different countries and circumstances genuinely care about the same things and share a common desire to make Europe a better, more equal and sustainable place for all to live. It was also interesting to see how many of the concerns and priorities highlighted by Social and Environmental NGOs and Trade Unions for many years are strongly shared by citizens, showing decision makers should listen more to those groups and less to corporate lobbyists.
It was frustrating however that some of those in powerful positions chose to focus less on values and rights than on EU economic dominance and military strength.
In the months since the Conference, I have spoken at events with the European Youth Forum, the Economic and Social Platform, the Institute
for International and European Affairs (IIEA) and others.
It is now up to all of us to take the conversation forward and work for a more progressive, equal, sustainable, inclusive and peaceful Europe and a shared planetary future.