The Conference on the Future of Europe and the Dilemma of the European Parliament

The European Parliament holds a difficult position within the institutional set-up of the European Union. It finds itself caught between political ambition and inter-institutional power gambles. The Conference on the Future of Europe illustrates the dilemma – and offers a way forward. Read more

The Corona Crisis and Hungary’s Democracy: a European Problem

Dealing with the Corona crisis poses a challenge to all European democracies. There is one member state in particular, however, which raises worldwide attention: Hungary. Managing the pandemic not only increases tensions between Brussels and Budapest. The open conflict illustrates an immanent, fundamental problem of the EU. In order to avoid further ruptures it seems inevitable to include a discussion on treaty changes into the debate on the future of the EU. Read more

The Corona Crisis as a Burning Lens for Regional Disparities and Social Tensions

From being a public health crisis, the current Corona pandemic has soon turned into an economic, social and political crisis. The consequences do not threaten countries, regions and people equally. A rather neglected group in the current discourse on the crisis have been blue-collar workers. This small ethnographic sketch points to the specific problem landscape of old industrial regions and their inhabitants. These regions and their characteristic social stratification appear to be increasingly marginalized in today’s society, not just since Corona has reached the European continent. (Blog post in German)

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The Corona Crisis and the EU Budget: An Opportunity for Change?

The European Union (EU) is looking for cures to weather the upcoming economic storm, caused by the Corona pandemic. Similar to the eurozone crisis, initial negotiations about sharing debts have been blocked by Northern member states. The upcoming EU budget negotiations pose a second opportunity to set up a meaningful response for the years ahead. Yet again, similar to the eurozone crisis, the EU might be forced to rely on financial markets rather than increasing member states contributions to turn the tide. Here is why this is problematic. Read more

The Future of Europe in Times of Corona – A Debate Needed More Than Ever

Resources and efforts by the EU institutions and the Member States are currently focused on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. But the conflicts which structure the discussions around finding an adequate European response to the crisis and its aftermath are symptomatic of a bigger picture of the state of the Union. 

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‘Blended Finance’ a Way-Out of the Current EU Budget Negotiations?

Current EU budget negotiations are turning into another tortuous battle. This blogpost examines whether the involvement of private investors in delivering regional investment may offer a way out of the stalemate.

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Opinion: Conference on the Future of Europe – Old Chefs, New Soup?

It sounded promising: in her speech in the plenary of the European Parliament in July 2019, Ursula von der Leyen, Commission President to be at the time, took a stance in the debate on the future of the European Union by announcing the Conference on the Future of Europe. She underlined how important the EU’s unity was (admittedly not really surprising), she called for involving citizens in the process of reshaping Europe and listening to their suggestions (again: something we have heard before), and she finally pointed out that this process may even result in rethinking the EU’s institutional and legal architecture – which would mean changing the EU treaties, a possibility she would be open for.

Now, the last one does have a bit of a new tone to it. Yes, there have been citizen dialogues in the past; yes, European cultural policies have put a lot of effort into creating some kind of unity-in-diversity-pan-European-identity in order to make the EU an integral aspect of every European’s self-understanding; and yes, especially the European Parliament sometimes sounds like a broken vinyl record from the 1970s: we need to reconnect with the citizens, we need to reconnect with the citi…

However, involving citizens in the process of potential treaty-changes and institutional reform sounds more sincere in terms of an actual bottom-up-approach. The citizen dialogues of the past years, introduced as a means to increase participation and democratic debate in Europe, so far didn’t result in any visible, concrete action. One may wonder: what exactly did we have them for? Holding out the prospect of treaty change as a potential result of the Conference on the Future of Europe, however, offers the possibility of citizen involvement leading to actual change. In contrary to the dialogues held until 2019, citizens will not only be invited to discuss specific policies of the Union, but to give their input on the very setup of the EU of tomorrow.

In its January resolution on the Conference on the Future of Europe, the European Parliament calls for a non-predetermined process, inclusive, open, with the EU institutions, European citizens and civil society being equal partners. It “commits itself to a genuine follow-up of the Conference without delay, with legislative proposals, initiating treaty change or otherwise” and “calls on the other two institutions to make the same commitment”.[1]

The Commission’s communication published a few days later, however, tones things down a notch. Where Commission President von der Leyen found rather clear and forward words when stating in July 2019

I am ready to follow up on what is agreed, including by legislative action if appropriate. I am also open to Treaty change. Should there be a Member of the European Parliament put forward to chair the Conference, I will fully support this idea”,[2]

the Commission’s communication remains vague and fails to mention treaty changes or any hard-fact-action that could result from the upcoming citizen involvement in the process.

This could be read as both, leaving the political guidance to Parliament and Council and staying in the administering background, as well as a PR stunt to allow von der Leyen to make somewhat revolutionary sounding promises which then will fall quietly under the table when negotiating the details of the announced conference. To be fair: substantive treaty changes may seem quite unlikely these days, since they require consensus among the ‘Masters of the Treaties’, i.e. EU member states. The Commission is, of course, very well aware of that. Still, it could at least have opted for increasing public pressure on the Council in order to avoid the renewed future process to become yet another costly but eventually ineffective endeavour.

Regardless of how we want to look at the Commission’s proposal, it is clear that the still to be expected Council Position on the Conference on the Future of Europe will be leading more clearly towards the trilogue negotiations between Commission, Parliament and Council in view of a Joint Declaration.

It is very unlikely that there will be any support or even mention of potential treaty changes as a result from the announced two-year-process coming from the Council. Regarding the question of where the secretariat of the conference should be set up, and who should be chairing the conference, it is yet to be seen whether the Council will give this hat to the Parliament as easily as Commission President von der Leyen suggested in her remarks.

So, to sum up: for the time being, there is no guarantee at all that this time around, the proclaimed citizen involvement will lead to any different results compared to what we’ve already seen in the various citizen dialogues and ‘Debating Europe’ fora in the past. However, the potential outcome with which the conference was announced, and the work force and the institutional attention it has already been allocated, hold some memento and, indeed, some credibility.

Therefore, making use of this potential, and making the conference a success in terms of democratic process, participation and non-determined outcome, will largely depend on the EU institutions’ willingness to do things differently this time. And – this being the comment of a realist – it will most probably have to be the European Parliament that will have to take the lead on those goals during the trilogue negotiations for a Joint Declaration in the end of February.

The Parliament would be well advised to not allow the Council to outrank it in this process, and to not allow the Commission to make it believe that we ‘need to be realistic’ and should therefore not reach for the stars. We have seen this happening in the past, and it is time for new soup, finally.





[1] European Parliament resolution on the European Parliament’s position on the Conference on the Future of Europe, B9-0036/2020, 9 January 2020.

[2] Ursula von der Leyen: A Union that strives for more. My agenda for Europe, Political guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024, 16 July 2019.

New Book on Regional Governance in the EU: A Short Book Review

Prof. Gabriele Abels, who is a partner of the research project REGIOPARL, just published a new book on Regional Governance in the EU together with Jan Battke. This interesting book gathers many insightful contributions—some of which directly refer to topics of interest to REGIOPARL. Read more on our impressions and take-aways in this short book review. Read more

REGIOPARL at the European Week of Regions and Cities

Last week REGIOPARL took part in the European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels, a conference organized by the Committee of the Regions attracting over 9000 participants from regional and local authorities, EU institutions, academics and businesses. In workshops, panel debates and university sessions participants discussed the most topical agendas in the field of regional governance and regional development in the EU. Key takeaways for the REGIOPARL team: Regions’ deep concerns about the future of Cohesion Policy and the lack of representation of regional legislative assemblies in the conference’s program.  

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A bit more Europe, please!

General elections took place in Austria last Sunday. It was a national election campaign without much emphasis on EU issues—unfortunately, as it is argued in this article. (Article in German) Read more