Conference on the future of Europe. Everybody has been talking since the beginning, since the initiative was launched in 2019. An unprecedented event, presented as the most prominent moment in the European democratic life. The Conference (also known as COFOE) is «a citizen-led series of debates and discussions that will enable people from across Europe to share their ideas and help shape our common future». That’s how the European Commission described this historic moment never experienced before. Whatever the intention can be, please forget about enthusiasm and call the COFOE for what is in reality: a failure. A failure of an entire political system and its leadership.
Why is the COFOE a failure? In order to better understand we need to come back to the past, when everything started. When in 1951 the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was signed, no Conference on the future of Europe took place. When six years later the European Economic Community (EEC) was founded, no citizen-led debates were held. The history of the European integration has always been about political decisions. Everything happened because of governments working together on behalf of their respective peoples. That’s how representative democracy works.
Citizens are called to elect men and women who have the duty to take initiatives and decisions for them. Today this system is not functioning anymore. Elected people are incapable of taking any initiative, so they are obliged to ask their electors what to do.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, stated that «people need to be at the very centre of all our policies». She also expressed the wish that «all Europeans will actively contribute to the Conference on the Future of Europe and play a leading role in setting the European Union’s priorities».
Here comes the real issue. It shouldn’t be up to citizens to set up political priorities, politicians should. If the latter cannot make it out, then they should be replaced by more capable and courageous decision makers. Yes, courage. It is a matter of courage and visions. The so called leaders and the supposed-to-be leaders don’t lead. They don’t decide. They have no vision, and so they cannot provide perspectives.
Until today there has been no need for Conferences on the future of Europe because governments had ideas, projects, political agendas, and the courage to do what was necessary to guarantee well-being and prosperity. When the single currency was finally introduced, in 1999, no COFOEs had been organized. Politicians, ministers, head of States and governments agreed that getting the Euro was the right thing to do, and they acted without consulting the civil society in huge media events.
COFOE slogan itself is worrying. «The future is in your hands» means that the people elected to take decision don’t want to take responsibilities and be no accountable. This is not leadership, at all. This is an escaping class.Thus, this so celebrated Conference on the future of Europe cannot be considered as one of the highest achievement in democracy. On the contrary, it must be seen as the tangible sign of a deep crisis of democracy itself.
This worrying crisis is not new, it started already and is only deteriorating. Greece and Italy offered a remarkable samples of it. Alexis Tsipras, once elected as prime minister of the Hellenic republic, called for a public referendum on the Eurozone financial-package assistance. The Five Star Movement, both in Italy and in the EU, used to organize a few-people on-line consultations on every relevant decision to be taken. That’s the beginning of the end for democracy.
Politicians are there in order to decide, and they don’t. Leaders are there in order to lead, and they don’t. The democratic machine, if not out of order, is blocked. Thinking that democratic participation can fix the problems is a huge mistake, a failure within a failure. Brexit is there to show and remind how not feasible is to switch to others its own tasks. Citizens with no experience in politics and European affairs cannot replace those who are (supposed to be) there in order to shape the future.
Furthermore it has to be noticed how this Conference on the future of Europe can generate a boomerang effect for the UE. After one year of debates, consultations, discussions, feedback and so on and so forth, what can the public opinion think about the European Union if certain suggestions are not taken into account and not put in legislation proposals?
Clarity here is needed. Von der Leyen and pals must no give citizens illusions. Europeans need to know that at a certain point, once the COFOE wil be over, decision makers will take a decision and just a part of the discussion will become EU legislations. There will be unhappy people in any case. Then, wouldn’t be better to come back to the traditional way of taking decisions? Wouldn’t be better if politics come back to do politics instead of asking outsiders to be accountable for a missing program?
Dear von der Leyen and pals, «people need to be at the very centre of all our policies» means that you have to put them at the heart of the decisions that you and you alone must take. Otherwise, you prove to be failure. And there is no doubt that this Conference on the future of Europe is the failure of Europe.