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The Conference on the Future of Europe

The conference on the future of Europe is entering its decisive phase. A report with recommendations on the further development of the European Union is to be submitted to the presidents of the EU institutions by May. In a position paper, BDI presents core demands for the areas in which the conference should provide impetus.

The Conference on the Future of Europe came thanks to an initiative of French President Emanuel Macron. The aim of the conference is to initiate a dialog on the future of Europe between citizens and political decision-makers - beyond the European elections. The start turned out to be bumpy: a tough competence tussle between the EU institutions was followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a dialogue process only starting in spring 2021. Since the conference recommendations were supposed to be available in time for France's Council presidency and the French presidential election campaign, there was only one year to develop new impulses for the EU.

Strengthening the EU's ability to act and making it fit for the future

German industry supports the conference's goal of strengthening the EU's ability to act in Foreign and Security Affairs and making it fit for the future. Its internal strength - based on a social market economy and the European model – is decisive for European sovereignty and the future role of the EU in the world. It further depends on the global competitiveness of the European economy and a growing ability to act in foreign policy.

There is certainly no shortage of proposals for the future of Europe. Three forums are currently collecting ideas, including industry-relevant topics such as climate and the environment, health, a stronger economy, Europe's role in the world, the rule of law or digital transformation: In European and national citizens' panels, randomly selected citizens deliberate in nine working groups together with representatives of national parliaments and governments, the European Parliament, the EU Commission, the regions, the European social partners and many more. Interested citizens have already posted over 13,000 ideas on a multilingual online platform.

Thousands of ideas for the future – but now what?

It remains unclear how the EU institutions intend to deal with the numerous ideas for the future. On the one hand, there is the question which ideas should be included in the final report. A sensible traffic light system is currently being discussed that could help in the selection process: red for all ideas that do not fall within the EU's sphere of competence; orange for those recommendations for which EU legislative proposals already exist; and green for new proposals that can be implemented at European level. Only the ideas marked green would find their way into the final report of the conference.

Second, it is open what significance the conference recommendations should have for the EU's political agenda. The EU institutions have only given general assurances that they will follow up on the recommendations within the scope of their respective competencies. However, there are clear differences of opinion among the EU institutions on how to proceed: Numerous European member of parliament have enthusiastically welcomed the conference. They would be willing to implement ideas even by amending the EU treaties. Most member states, on the other hand, are rather reserved towards the conference and are fundamentally sceptical about lengthy and risky treaty changes. They would preferably invest in as many resources as possible in the ongoing important legislative processes to combat climate change, digitization and strengthening Europe's sovereignty.

Coalition agreement: German government support for Macron's reform ideas.

The new German government attaches great importance to the Conference on Future of Europe. In the coalition agreement, the SPD, Greens and FDP affirm that they will implement recommendations through treaty amendments if necessary. They call for the establishment of a constitutional convention to develop the EU into a federal European state. It can thus be assumed that France and Germany will jointly push ahead with reforms following the conference - for example, the introduction of a right of initiative for the European Parliament in the European legislative process.

It is not yet clear to what extent the conference will shape the future of Europe. The EU institutions have raised high expectations among many committed Europeans. It is considered very likely that selected ideas for the future will at least find their way into the election programs of the parties for the 2024 European election campaign.