Updated: Feb 25
The Conference on the Future of Europe is the first example of the systematic and structured involvement of EU citizens in shaping future policies that will significantly impact and shape our lives and the lives of future generations. We entered this process determined in the desire for the result to be a reform of the union that will reflect the wishes and demands of the citizens.
My impression is that the citizens have accepted this process well. I see a high level of involvement and interest in the topics that are most important to them. We need to understand that most citizens are not accustomed to this type of direct participation, as well as to public speaking.
What we the members of the European Parliament have problematized in the discussions so far has been particularly concerned with the desire for the Conference to come up with concrete conclusions and concrete proposals. Our focus is on citizens, the focus of the Conference is on citizens - we must respect and support each other in expressing views and proposals, on which we may not always find common ground, but our common intention is the same - a better life in the European Union tomorrow and strengthening the EU.
Participatory democracy is certainly the direction we should strive for if we talk about democracy in general as a political system. Some Member States have more experience with such an approach, some less - the Conference on the Future is the first such comprehensive process at EU level.
The Conference itself is a major pan-European project. Therefore, any participation in or contact with its work is necessarily linked to pan-Europeanism. Regarding the long-term use of the model applied at the Conference, there were inputs to make a similar model more permanent.
We must be aware that the aim of this Conference is one - to reform the European Union so that it better reflects the wishes of our citizens. There are already ways to involve them in political processes - through European Citizens' Initiatives, petitions to the European Parliament, dialogues with citizens, official complaints and communication with Members of the European Parliament.
What I would like to draw attention to is that it is not always easy to interest citizens in political issues or direct participation on the open stage, but if the Conference succeeds in changing the union and fulfilling citizens' expectations, we create preconditions for permanent strengthening of citizens' trust in institutions and political processes. I am convinced that this will be one of the most important results of the Conference.
The work within the Plenary Session of the Conference on the Future of Europe is organized through working groups. I am a member of the working group on migration, which continues to be one of the most important topics for European citizens, especially in the context of instability in the wider European neighbourhood and the situation at European borders, which is under constant pressure. I agree with the demands that the European Union urgently needs to find an answer to illegal migration to have a more efficient approach. Today, migration should also be viewed in the context of climate change, geopolitical interests, security issues, as well as other aspects. Our responsibility in responding to these processes is enormous.
One of the issues we also need to address urgently is the reform of the Schengen system, which is foreseen in the plan of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This topic is especially important for Croatia, which has the longest land border with non-EU countries. I believe that the direction in which France is currently leading is good, and one of the proposals is for the Schengen area to be managed like the Eurozone through a joint ministerial body. Guaranteeing freedom of movement between Schengen countries necessarily depends on the success of external border control and the prevention of illegal crossings.
In the future, we must work to improve the positioning and visibility of all European institutions, especially the European Parliament. Certain shifts are visible, as shown by the results of the latest Eurobarometer. Currently, 36% of respondents have a positive image of the European Parliament, an increase of 50% compared to 2015, including a jump of 13% during the pandemic years. Another key observation is raising awareness of the importance of democracy. EU citizens (32 percent) believe that democracy is a fundamental value that the European Parliament should defend. Democracy has faced many challenges in recent years, not just in the Union, whether it is growing extremism, the spread of manipulative disinformation or the ongoing public discourse of weakening the rule of law.
Observing and listening to citizens at all the events I have organized and participated in so far, I see that the problems and challenges faced by, for example, Croatian citizens do not differ too much from the challenges and concerns of European citizens. There is always a local context variable, but the general direction is the same and the general preferences are similar. I also note that awareness and knowledge of the European Union is not at a satisfactory level. The involvement of our citizens and their openness to the Conference process creates optimism in us who we are involved in decision-making processes.
DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.