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Home / Resources / News / For a Conference on a Future on Europe open to civil society

For a Conference on a Future on Europe open to civil society

Time has come to invest into our own European democracy!

We call for a Conference on the Future of Europe open to civil society and in close cooperation to those citizens who invest their lives in our common future.

Dear President of the European Parliament, President of the Council of the EU and President of the European Commission,

As you meet at the Jean Monnet House in Bazoches, France, to discuss Europe’s political challenges and the Conference on the future of Europe, we would like to share with you and your closest advisors some reflections on this forthcoming major democratic exercise.

We are a community of academics coming from different disciplines united by our commitment to constructively contribute to the European project and its future. Having not only personally witnessed, but also closely studied and contributed to previous (failed) institutional attempts (including the 2002-03 Convention, the 2006-7 European Citizens Consultations, the 2009-10 Reflection group) to rethink the EU institutional asset, we take the liberty to express our deepest concerns about the many unintended consequences stemming from the imminent launch of the Conference on the future of Europe.

There is a tangible risk that by raising expectations it cannot easily deliver on, the Conference may erode citizens’ trust at a time when the demand for public engagement is at record highs across the continent. Europe and your political leadership can hardly afford that.

Due to its top-down approach, the proposed blueprint of the Conference defies its own purpose: to be “a bottom-up exercise where European citizens are listened to and their voices contribute to the debates on the future of Europe”.

Here is why:

  1. First, neither the blueprint put forward by the Parliament nor that proposed by the Commission foresee the participation of civil society organizations with the only exception of the European trade unions and the employers’ BusinessEurope. Yet without unleashing the mobilizing potential of European civil society the Conference will never be owned and felt by citizens. This goes quite against the positive experience of involving civil society organisations in promoting turnout in the European elections: if the European institutions think that civil society will be happy only to act as promoters of a Conference they have no say in, the institutions risk an unpleasant surprise.
  2. Second, the only participatory dimension of the Conference comes from six citizens’ assemblies – called agoras in the Parliament’s proposal – which will deliberate on a set of predefined policy areas, from the climate crisis the digital revolution to the redrafting of EU electoral law. It remains unclear how the agoras – which have been downgraded to citizen’s dialogues in the Commission’s blueprint – will actually be run and moderated, and, more importantly, how their conclusions will feed into the work and final conclusions of the Conference, and crucially how feedback between decision-makers and citizens participating in the assemblies actually takes place, and how disagreements are resolved. Moreover, in this approach citizens are not involved in agenda setting.
  3. Third, although in the Parliament proposal young people are given a dedicated agora, there is a danger that this is perceived as ‘youth-washing’ and treating young people as an accessory rather than empowering young people as the future of the European Union.
  4. Fourth, the methodological vagueness and improvisation characterizing the first blueprints of the Conference contrasts with the countless and well-established democratic innovations already taking shape across the continent, from the Irish citizens’ Constitutional Convention, which reviewed the constitution, to the Ostbelgien Citizens’ Council in the German-speaking community in eastern Belgium – a permanent mechanism and the first of its kind, letting randomly chosen ordinary citizens take part with parliamentarians in developing recommendations for the local parliament. Even the EU’s own democratic innovation in the form of Citizens’ Initiatives is not included in the blueprint.
  5. Fifth, there is a thriving literature on the state of European democracy and some of its possible fixes. Yet the current proposals for – and debate surrounding – the Conference seem to blissfully neglect such a wealth of analysis. No democratic construction will succeed in the absence of an architecture informed and designed by its best constitutional architects and experienced carpenters.
  6. Sixth, the ultimate success of the Conference will be defined by its durability. Europe needs to devise an effective mechanism capable of capturing the most relevant and promising proposals coming from the citizens and turn it into a permanent method feeding the day-to-day EU decision-making. Citizen participation needs institutionalization, not on-off or ad hoc processes.

Time has come to invest into our own European democracy, far from the day-to-day political bickering, through close cooperation with those citizens who invest their lives, as activists and advocates in our common future.

Europe, and your new, yet already contested, political leadership can hardly afford to be associated with an initiative that might soon be perceived as top-down, unauthentic, outdated and out-of-touch with EU citizens’ daily lives.

For the Conference to succeed, the three most powerful EU institutions should lead by example, by stepping back and carving out a meaningful and effective role for citizens’ input within the forthcoming Conference so as to be able to constantly co-create the future the EU deserves. Specifically, following from the deficiencies of the current models discussed, our concrete recommendations would be:

  • Give civil society a leading role in the Conference, by giving it a voting seat at the plenary table, alongside the social partners.
  • Ensure that the process is built in such a way that real deliberation can take place between citizens, and between citizens and elected decision makers and governments: this means enabling citizens to set the agenda on equal terms to governments (as it is the case within the Open Government Partnership), and allowing contradictory debate and compromise to take place over the course of the democratic exercise.
  • Give young people a decisive role in the Conference, by empowering them in the plenary, and ensuring young people are in the Presidium or other governing bodies of the Conference itself.
  • Take the time to involve practitioners, academics and specialists in civil society participation in the design and running of the Conference.

Finally, at the outset of the exercise commit that this is a decisive and long-term evolution in the way European democracy works, and not a one-off exercise.


Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law, HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby

Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford

Niccolò Milanese, founding director of European Alternatives

Nadia Urbinati, Professor of Political Theory, Columbia University

Ulrike Guerot, Professor of European Policy and the Study of Democracy, Danube University Krems

Sergio Fabbrini, Dean of the Political Science Department and Professor of Political Science, LUISS Guido Carli

Gráinne de Búrca, Professor of Law, New York University

Vivian Schmidt, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration, Boston University

Daniel Innerarity, Professor of Political and Social Philosophy, University of Basque Country

Neil Walker, Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations, The University of Edinburgh

Claire Kilpatrick, Professor of International and European Labour and Social Law, EUI

Rui Tavares, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, former MEP

Albena Azmanova, University of Kent

Alvaro Oleart, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Amandine Garde, University of Liverpool

Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Bremen University

Anita Seprenyi, Alliance Europa

Anna Loretoni, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna

Anna Rurka, University Paris Nanterre

Anne Meuwese, Tilburg University

Annelies van Rijen, Studio Europa Maastricht

Antoine Vauchez, CNRS – Université Paris 1-Sorbonne

Arnaud Van Wayenberghe, HEC Paris

Asteris Huliaras, University of the Peloponnese

Beata Zwierzynska, University of Lower Silesia, Poland

Benjamin Bodson, Université catholique de Louvain (BE)

Bernard Steunenberg, Leiden University

Bernd Marin, European Bureau for Policy Consultation and Social

Carlo Cappa, Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”

Caterina Di Fazio, Maastricht University

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh, University of Edinburgh

Danai Petropoulou Ionescu, Maastricht university

Daniela Caruso, Boston University

Daniela Vancic, Democracy International

Daniele Archibugi, IRPPS-Italian National Research Council

Daniele Conversi, University of the Basque country

Denis Cenusa, JLU University

Denise Prevost, Maastricht University

Dimitry Kochenov, University of Groningen

Dominik Kirchdorfer, EFF – European Future Forum

Carlotta Alfonsi, OECD

Edoardo Traversa, UCLouvain

Eldriona Daci, Link campus university

Ellen Hey, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Emmanuelle Bribosia, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Endrius Cocciolo, Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Fernanda Nicola, American University Washington DC

François Balate, European Youth Forum

Franziska Maier, University of Stuttgart

Giuseppe Martinico, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa

Grigorij Mesežnikov, Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Slovakia

Hartmut Mayer, University of Oxford

Heidi Maurer, University of Oxford

Helen Xanthaki, UCL

Helene Landemore, Yale University

Herwig C.H. Hofmann, University of Luxembourg

Hugo Alexandre de Araujo, IAC – Instituto de Apoio a Crianca

Ida Musiałkowska, Poznań University of Economics and Business

Isuf Halimi, European Center for Human Rights

James Organ, University of Liverpool

Jean F. Crombois, American University in Bulgaria

Jean-Bernard Auby, Sciences po Paris

Johannes Kiess, University of Siegen

John Morijn, University of Groningen

Joseph Lacey, University College Dublin

Jowanka Jakubek-Lalik, University of Warsaw

Judith Clifton, University of Cantabria

Krzysztof Izdebski, ePaństwo Foundation

Liav Orgad, European University Institute

Luis Bouza Garcia, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Lukas Schnermann, Extinction Rebellion Germany

Luke Cooper, Another Europe Is Possible, LSE

Manuela Brillat, Plaider les Droits de l’Homme

Marco Borraccetti, University of Bologna

Marco Bronckers, Leiden University

Mariam Hofmarcher, Holzhacker, Austrian Health Academy

Marta Cillero Manzano, European Alternatives

Martin Pairet, European Alternatives

Mathieu Segers, Maastricht University

Mathilde Brunet, University of Geneva

Matthijs Pontier, Piratenpartij, PhD

Mic Marin, EUROCEF

Michael Zürn, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Michele Fiorillo, Scuola Normale Superiore / CIVICO Europa

Mike Cosgrave, University College Cork

Paolo Acunzo, Movimento Federalista Europeo

Patrycja Dabrowska-Klosinska, Queen’s University Belfast & Warsaw University of Technology

Paul Blokker, University of Bologna

Paul Gragl Queen Mary, University of London

Pier Virgilio Dastoli, European Movement

David Farrell, University College Dublin

Laurent Pech, Middlesex University

Rainer Forst, Goethe Universität Frankfurt/Main

Raymond Frenken, Euronomics

Richard Youngs, Carnegie Europe

Robert Grzeszczak, University of Warsaw

Sébastien Platon, University of Bordeaux

Sejal Parmar, Central European University

Silke Beck, UFZ Leipzig

Stijn Smismans, Cardiff University

Suzana Carp, Sandbag Climate Campaign

Tetty Havinga, Radboud University

Thomas Perroud, Université Panthéon-Assas (Paris 2)

Tina Magazzini, European University Institute

Tom Theuns, Leiden University

Ulrich Stege, International University College of Turin (IUC)

Vera Kempe, Abertay University

Vincent Bellinkx, University of Antwerp Law School

Yves Sintomer, University of Paris 8

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