Thursday - September 23, 2021 September 23, 2021

Conference on the Future of Europe

A Milestone in Participatory and Digital Democracy at the EU level

Author: Ana Luiza Loio

A momentous move towards participatory democracy within the European Union, the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFE) kicked off its latest stage last weekend (17th – 19th) in Strasbourg with the first of four Citizens’ Panels to happen within the coming month. Aimed at creating a vision of the EU within the medium and long-term, the first panel concentrated its discussions on three topic areas: “stronger economy, social justice and jobs”, “youth, sport, culture and education”, and “digital transformation”. Matching the conference’s objective to “shape democracy collectively”, each panel is made up of 200 citizens chosen at random from each of the 27 EU member states. At least one third of the participants are young people under 25 years-old.

Digital Democracy In Action

Despite the select number of attendees, all European citizens have the chance to participate in the conference through the multilingual digital platform launched for this purpose last April. CoFE encourages users to post on the platform sharing their ideas in relation to the conference’s ten topic areas. Citizens can also engage in discussion with others who have also shared theirs by replying to other people’s posts. Two action buttons – “endorse” and “follow” – allow platform participants to show support and to keep track of their favourite discussions, respectively.

An outstanding example of how digital democracy can be put into action, the ideas published in the platform are currently being used to fuel discussions at the Citizens’ Panels and will also serve as input at the upcoming Conference Plenary meetings. The first interim report on the multilingual digital platform, published last week, gives a summary of the contributions found on the platform and highlights the most endorsed and commented posts so far.

Another way in which the wider European public can participate in the conference is through online, hybrid and offline events organised by people, organisations and national, regional and local authorities across Europe – a list of which you can find on the conference’s digital platform. At the European Youth Event 2021, to take place in Strasbourg on October 8th and 9th, Network Democracy’s co-director Anne de Zeeuw will be speaking about how to strike a positive balance between the threats and opportunities that digital democracies entail. To participate online, please access the event’s online platform.

The Next Steps for CoFE

By October 17th, all four Citizens’ Panels will have met. Each panel is expected to draft recommendations to be presented at the Conference Plenary meetings in December 2021 and January 2022, and to elect twenty Plenary representatives each. Together with 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per Member State) and 3 from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, they will elaborate proposals to be delivered to the Executive Board, which will produce a final conference report.

This board will then present this document to Joint Presidency, composed of the President of the European Parliament, the President of the Council and the President of the European Commission. But how exactly the outcomes of the conference will be put in practice remains uncertain, as the recommendations to be made are non-binding. In other words, which of the suggestions are to be implemented and how will remain at the discretion of the three institutions.