Civil society has raised concerns to EURACTIV over a lack of inclusivity and diversity in the Conference of the Future of Europe (CoFoE). Additionally, they say the conference is at risk of failure if member states do not follow citizens’ proposals.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is the EU’s deliberative democracy experiment where 800 citizens and members of civil society work on recommendations that will be shared with lawmakers. In addition, a multilingual platform accepts proposals on a range of topics.
“In terms of our assessment of the Digital Platform, we want to refer to the accessibility audit commissioned by the European Disability Forum, pointing at the flaws of the platform that make it inaccessible for many people with disabilities,” said Maarten de Groot, member of the ECI Campaign and Alfiaz Vaiya, Co-Founder of Equinox Initiative for Racial Justice to EURACTIV.
Others say that the platform should be more inclusive for ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. They also said the gender gap registered in the multilingual platform is concerning for the conference’s outcome.
“As seen in the mid-term reports, 63% of the participants on the platform are men,” the Citizens Takeover Europe Coalition told EURACTIV.
They added, “because several member states do not allow the collection of data based on race or origins, we do not have clear information on this. But if there is already a gender gap, we can only assume that the same imbalance goes for the participation of people of colour who are under-represented in this process. The platform lacks inclusivity, and the ideas shared on it do not fairly represent the diversity of the European Union population”.
On behalf of European Alternatives, Niccolò Milanese expressed similar concerns about minorities’ inclusion, noting that the random selection of panellists actually risks excluding many of Europe’s most marginalised.
“Non-binary people and EU residents without EU passports seem to be excluded entirely, and no quota is set for racialised and other marginalised communities. We believe that marginalised people should be at the centre of the conference on the Future of Europe and be a priority in the discussions”.
Democracy expert: CoFoE at risk of being PR exercise
The Conference for the Future of Europe is well underway. Still, concerns have been raised from the get-go that citizens’ proposals might not be taken seriously or implemented fully by European lawmakers for various reasons.
Member states and inclusion
Maarten and Alfiaz added that the inclusivity problem is also connected with member states behaviour.
“It is clear that many Member States didn’t want this conference in the first place, but even those that did want it, they showed to be only interested in the participation of some segments of the population, excluding the most marginalised. The French government’s push for this conference has gone hand in hand with attacking Muslim organisations”.
Similarly, Citizen Takeover Europe Coalition told EURACTIV that most member states had not shown any dedicated plans for their involvement in CoFoE, whether by choice, lack of capacity or loss of interest.
“France has taken more of a lead for reasons we all know, and we welcome the new German coalition government have made a priority of the conference on the Future of Europe. Still, until now, most other member states seem almost to have been embarrassed by it,” they added.
The President of the European Youth Forum, Silja Markkula, who also chairs the CoFoE working group on education, culture, youth and sports, is also concerned about member states behaviour.
“We see some member states do the right thing by involving their national youth councils in their contribution to the conference. But this is not universal and varies from member state to member state. We also see selected national MPs involved in the plenary. The big question remains, what will member states do to implement the outcomes of the conference?”
In line with the idea of a more inclusive conference, the Citizens Takeover Europe Coalition proposes to create a permanent European Citizens Assembly to establish a best practice of citizen participation.
There is also the idea to involve non-EU member states in the process, particularly those who are trying to join the EU.
Sebastien Schäffer, managing director for the institute for Danube Region and Central Europe, told EURACTIV, “we argue for immediate political accession of the Western Balkans with gradual economic integration. An appropriate safeguard mechanism in the institutional set-up of the EU has to therefore be implemented.”
Until some of these changes are implemented, scepticism about the CoFoE’s impact, in conjunction with previous concerns raised by participants, could seek to usurp its potential before it has even finished.
The European Youth Forum president is oriented to more inclusive youth policies; for example, “we use the platform to call for a ban on unpaid internships, an end to discriminatory minimum wages and an end to age-based limitations on access to social protection”, which is still a reality in several EU countries.
She was also keen to highlight that conversations on the future of Europe must include youth voices. “The future of Europe depends on youth participation in democracy… Young people prove time and again that they are engaged in the issues that affect their lives. Our political system needs to update and recognise their right to influence their future not just in demonstrations, but also through the ballot.”
EU quells fears over lack of media interest in CoFoE
Despite participants fears that the Conference on the Future of Europe is not making headlines and therefore might not be as impactful as hoped, the Commission has reassured them that the media is listening and their voices will be heard.
[Edited by Alice Taylorr]