UPDATE – “Solidarity” is the key for Europe’s future stress European Leaders on Europe Day’s inauguration of the Conference on Future of Europe

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Strasbourg – There could be no more significant day to launch the Rules of Procedure that set out the composition of the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and how it will work, than Europe Day. Europe Day held on 9 May every year celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historic ‘Schuman declaration’.

The Presidents of the EU institutions delivered speeches on their vision for Europe, following a welcome speech by President Macron, while the Co-Chairs of the Executive Board answered questions posed by citizens from across EU Member States. Erasmus students from across the EU, together with members of the Conference’s Executive Board were physically present, fully respecting the applicable sanitary rules, and over 500 citizens attended the event remotely. Ministers for European affairs, Members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, and other VIP guests also joined remotely.

The text approved on Europe Day 2021 will complete the rules determining how the Conference Platform, Panels and Plenary can transform citizens’ priorities, hopes and concerns into actionable recommendations. It adds to the rules previously adopted concerning the working methods of the Executive Board and those related to citizens’ participation. The conference is aimed to provide a framework for wide public engagement for ‘reforming’ the European project.

The European Leaders stressed on the importance of Solidarity, a key component and European value, often under stress and with a constant changing definition due to different circumstances. Europe, today is facing a difficult period due to the pandemic.

Key – Solidarity

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the pandemic has stolen our experiences and emotions, fun and friendships, the opportunity to grow, to learn and take risks. And it has led many people to feel anxious, alone. Now it’s time for a new form of solidarity and social justice between generations. Solidarity was also stressed by European Parliament President David Sassoli who said “At the end of this pandemic, European solidarity will be needed more than ever due to the consequences of the crisis. Let us not make the mistakes of the past: without strengthened social cohesion, the identity of our societies would be threatened”. “All the reflections and those of our citizens, citizens, young people must also involve an update of the Treaties. We are courageous – said Sassoli – we must not be afraid, we must not have taboos”.

Earlier this year the EP President Sassoli, Prime Minister of Portugal Costa and Commission President von der Leyen signed the Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The Conference Plenary will be composed of 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, and citizens. 108 citizens will participate to discuss citizens’ ideas stemming from the Citizens’ Panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform: 80 representatives from the European Citizens’ Panels, of which at least one-third will be younger than 25, and 27 from national Citizens’ Panels or Conference events (one per Member State), as well as the President of the European Youth Forum.

In opening remarks, French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU had proven its merits during the pandemic.

“We have stayed together in the crisis,” he said, stressing that the EU had shown solidarity, put the protection of human lives first, offered financial help and strengthened its health systems. 

Macron also argued that the EU had successfully worked together on its vaccination campaign. “We must be proud of this, it was not a matter of course. European cooperation has saved lives.” 

Now is the time when the EU has to think about what it will look like in 10 years, Macron said, calling for a model that protects European values and strengthens research and investment. Macron meanwhile criticized the long waits for aid during the pandemic.

We want to create real momentum from the bottom up. The Conference will be much more than a listening exercise, but a way to truly include citizens in mapping out our shared European future. The foundations have been laid: digital and deliberative democratic experiments that have never been tried on an EU-wide scale. We will guarantee that their concerns and proposals will then get a political answer. It’s new and exciting, and it starts today”, Parliament’s Co-Chair of the Executive Board, Guy Verhofstadt said.

Coming from Porto to Strasbourg, to celebrate Europe Day and the launching of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the words of President Mario Soares came to my mind when back in 1976 he defended: ‘to rethink Europe and its future is a permanent duty of all Europeans. A joint endeavour that needs to be taken forward with humbleness facing the historic relevance of our common goals“, Ana Paula Zacarias Portuguese Secretary of State for EU Affairs, and Co-Chair from the Presidency of the Council of the EU said.

Context Reforming the project

Since the 2019 European elections, the European Parliament has also been pressing for reforms to give more weight to the votes of nearly 450 million citizens in the EU. However, after sluggish efforts to prepare for the conference, expectations for outcomes are mixed. The leader of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, suggested voters be able to directly elect the EU Commission president in future, telling the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland media group on Saturday that the current dual leadership model should be abolished. Many member states, however, have been shying away from far-reaching changes, which would mean amending their EU treaties. Some countries would then have to stage referendums, which have been known to fail in the past.

In addition, some EU states fear a shift of power to Brussels – away from the member states and towards the EU Commission and Parliament. For this reason, there were disputes about the meaning and goals of the conference until the very end. Only a few days ago, MEPs had threatened to cancel the opening event over this issue. Then a compromise was reached on, among other things, how citizens are to be represented at an assembly meeting from autumn onwards to discuss reforms in more detail. Citizens can also participate and contribute ideas via an online platform. Some 20 leaders throughout Europe, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called on Europeans to get involved in the reform efforts. The pandemic has highlighted the “strengths of European integration, but also its weaknesses,” Steinmeier said in his appeal. “We need to talk about all of that.”

Significance – Europe Day

Europe Day held on 9 May every year celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historic ‘Schuman declaration’. At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French foreign minister, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable.

His vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union. The Schuman Declaration was presented by French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950. It proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, whose members would pool coal and steel production.

The ECSC (founding members: France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) was the first of a series of supranational European institutions that would ultimately become today’s “European Union”.

In 1950, the nations of Europe were still struggling to overcome the devastation wrought by World War II, which had ended 5 years earlier.

Determined to prevent another such terrible war, European governments concluded that pooling coal and steel production would – in the words of the Declaration – make war between historic rivals France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”.

The Schumann Declaration:

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.

The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.

With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point.

It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe. The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.

This production will be offered to the world as a whole without distinction or exception, with the aim of contributing to raising living standards and to promoting peaceful achievements. With increased resources Europe will be able to pursue the achievement of one of its essential tasks, namely, the development of the African continent. In this way, there will be realised simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system; it may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.

By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.

To promote the realization of the objectives defined, the French Government is ready to open negotiations on the following bases.

The task with which this common High Authority will be charged will be that of securing in the shortest possible time the modernization of production and the improvement of its quality; the supply of coal and steel on identical terms to the French and German markets, as well as to the markets of other member countries; the development in common of exports to other countries; the equalization and improvement of the living conditions of workers in these industries.

To achieve these objectives, starting from the very different conditions in which the production of member countries is at present situated, it is proposed that certain transitional measures should be instituted, such as the application of a production and investment plan, the establishment of compensating machinery for equating prices, and the creation of a restructuring fund to facilitate the rationalization of production. The movement of coal and steel between member countries will immediately be freed from all customs duty, and will not be affected by differential transport rates. Conditions will gradually be created which will spontaneously provide for the more rational distribution of production at the highest level of productivity.

In contrast to international cartels, which tend to impose restrictive practices on distribution and the exploitation of national markets, and to maintain high profits, the organization will ensure the fusion of markets and the expansion of production.

The essential principles and undertakings defined above will be the subject of a treaty signed between the States and submitted for the ratification of their parliaments. The negotiations required to settle details of applications will be undertaken with the help of an arbitrator appointed by common agreement. He will be entrusted with the task of seeing that the agreements reached conform with the principles laid down, and, in the event of a deadlock, he will decide what solution is to be adopted.

The common High Authority entrusted with the management of the scheme will be composed of independent persons appointed by the governments, giving equal representation. A chairman will be chosen by common agreement between the governments. The Authority’s decisions will be enforceable in France, Germany and other member countries. Appropriate measures will be provided for means of appeal against the decisions of the Authority.

A representative of the United Nations will be accredited to the Authority, and will be instructed to make a public report to the United Nations twice yearly, giving an account of the working of the new organization, particularly as concerns the safeguarding of its objectives.

The institution of the High Authority will in no way prejudge the methods of ownership of enterprises. In the exercise of its functions, the common High Authority will take into account the powers conferred upon the International Ruhr Authority and the obligations of all kinds imposed upon Germany, so long as these remain in force.