Speech by Vice-President Šuica on the Conference on the Future of Europe
Extraordinary meeting of the Chairpersons of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC)
Dear COSAC Members,
Thank you for you the opportunity to address your extraordinary meeting today. I would have liked to join you in person but this is not possible. Nevertheless, I would like to convey my thoughts and some key messages to you regarding our work in the European Commission, in particular on the Conference on the Future of Europe.
I hope this video message finds you all healthy and safe. I know that given the pandemic and the recent Zagreb earthquakes, the Croatian Parliament was forced to cancel planned activities. I would like to thank the Chairman of the European Affairs Committee, Domagoj Ivan Milošević, for organising and inviting me to this meeting today.
It is a very positive sign for me as Vice-President for Democracy and Demography that you are discussing the Conference on the Future of Europe today. Let me reiterate to you once again how important I consider the role of national parliaments to be in this process. The Conference on the Future of Europe cannot be a success or reach its full potential without your contribution. We need to reach out to those citizens who do not always engage with us. We cannot leave any citizen, any region, town or village behind. I hope I can count on your support for this. Concretely what can you do? In an initial phase, you can certainly inform your respective governments of the importance of finding an agreement in Council, so that we can start working together, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, on a Joint Declaration that would pave the way for a launch as soon as possible. We are ambitious and we are ready to move fast once we have this agreement.
Let me be clear. The Conference is not a panacea for all ills. We are more ambitious than this. What is the Conference and why do we need it? It is a good place to begin discussing and deciding on our new and common future. Reaching out to the citizens is vital. They have been asking for this and the Conference has a key role in replying to these demands. This is a new public space – a space that is even more appropriate today given our changed circumstances under COVID-19. A place where citizens, either physically or digitally, can engage with others on subjects of interest or concern to them.
During times of crisis, when people feel left behind, they blame democracy itself! While unfortunate, this shows the importance of democracy and its relevance in our daily lives. Who present here today could have imagined the way in which COVID-19 has infected our European Union, in so many different ways, at so many different levels? Surely this current crisis shows now, more than ever, that democracy and democratic institutions have a fundamental role to play.
My main message today is that the Conference on the Future of Europe remains crucial. In fact, I would go so far as to say that because of the pandemic, it is now more important than ever before. We want to hear what we could have done better. Answering the difficult questions helps to save lives. We have seen concrete examples of this right across our European Union. European citizens should have a greater say on what the Union does and how it works for them.
Having already held many dialogues with citizens, I am convinced that issues such as healthcare and the EU’s response to the public health crisis will now have a more prominent role in the dialogues among citizens.
Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, I was on a listening tour of the EU. I had planned to visit all 27 Member States in the first six months of my mandate. In my missions I was focusing on national and regional examples of participatory and deliberative democracy, because getting the feedback mechanism right is key for the Conference on the Future of Europe. Its success will be judged on this point so it is key.
We need to make sure that ideas found in local discussions can be discussed at the European level and eventually been brought to the attention of the institutions.
Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to keep an open mind. As I have said to you before, I believe that predetermining the outcome would cause more damage to democracy than if we did nothing at all. Of course, some guidance is necessary in order to structure the debate to allow citizens to discuss and give us feedback. This does not restrict the issues for discussion. It does not pre-empt the outcome.
This is an important moment for us. We have the potential to lay the ground for a new type of politics. For a new dynamic between representative democracy and citizens for generations to come. Certainly not to replace representative democracy but to complement it.
I end by reminding you of why we are having the Conference on the Future of Europe. It is for the citizens. We can no longer continue as business-as-usual. In order to work differently, we need to think differently and try new and innovative ways of moving forward in our policy-making. Together, we need to find ways to improve our democracy for both the present and the future and make sure it works well for every citizen. I count on all COSAC members to join us in making sure that this message reaches all citizens and that we do not leaving anyone or anywhere behind.
I also note another important subject on your agenda for discussion – the common European response to the coronavirus outbreak and repercussions on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021 – 2027. The COVID19 pandemic shows us how solidarity is more important than ever before. It has also shown how together, we can recover, repair and come out stronger from this crisis as President von der Leyen recently said in the European Parliament. I agree and add that only together can we build the present and the future that citizens deserve.
Let me use the occasion of speaking to you to recall that reaching a rapid political agreement on Next Generation EU and the overall EU budget for 2021-2027 is necessary to give new dynamism to the recovery of our economies and societies after the COVID-19 crisis. It will equip the EU with a powerful tool to get the economy back on its feet and built for the future. Swift adoption is an urgent and exceptional necessity for an urgent and exceptional crisis.
The Commission has invited the European Council and the co-legislators to examine its proposals rapidly, with a view to reaching a political agreement at the European Council in July. An early decision will allow funds to be available immediately and address the most urgent areas. The Commission will then work closely with the European Parliament and the Council to finalise an
agreement on the future long-term framework and the accompanying sectoral programmes.
Completing this work in the early autumn would mean that the new long-term budget could be up and running and driving Europe’s recovery as of 1 January 2021. National Parliaments may therefore play an important role by engaging with their governments to help ensure that this package is adopted in due time.
National parliaments will then also have an essential direct role to play in the approval of the Own Resources Decision. This decision, which will authorise the full amount of the borrowing, to be used for exceptional expenditure and for loans to Member States, will only enter into force after it gets the approval of all Member States in accordance with their national constitutional requirements - in most cases the approval of national Parliaments. Speed will be of essence here. We count on determined action by national parliaments for a quick ratification of the Decision and to provide for the necessary democratic legitimacy of that innovative proposal necessary to overcome the crisis and help initiate a sustainable economic recovery.