Since May last year EU citizens have been able to have their say on how they think the European project is going. The 'Conference on the Future of Europe' aims to build a stronger EU for the future.
To discuss this in more detail, Euronews spoke to the Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Suica at a recent plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Gregoire Lory, Euronews: "Are you satisfied with the mobilisation of citizens for this conference?"
Dubravka Šuica: "I must admit that I am satisfied because we live in the middle of a pandemic and it's not easy to attract citizens to come physically. But since we organised all events, both physically and in a hybrid format, I can say that I am satisfied, especially because we have, as you know, a multilingual digital platform in 24 different European languages - so people can communicate with us via this digital platform, since we live in a digital age, and since one of the priorities of this European Commission is digital Europe, so this is also very important. So many citizens can communicate, can share their ideas, can comment or can organise different events. At this moment we have more than 4.5 million European citizens who interacted with us, which I may say that this is enough, but of course we always want to promote our 'Conference on the Future of Europe' better, and this is also to invite citizens to come to multilingual digital platforms and to express their concerns, their hopes, their fears, their ideas, whatever they think about Europe, their Europe, our Europe, they want to live and work in."
Euronews: "Which member states are the most involved and which ones could do better?"
Dubravka Šuica: "I think the most active member states are Germany, France, Belgium - I think that Italy also. I think that the eastern part of Europe could do better. They might not be that informed. But they are also smaller, so when you put this into proportion then they are doing well. But I think it is important that all of them interact with us because the reason why we organised this Conference on the Future of Europe is because we wanted to listen to citizens, because it's not enough to interact with them every four or five years during elections. So we want to deliberate and to see what they think."
Euronews: "What's the key thing that you take from this interim report?"
Dubravka Šuica: "For me, what I realised is that most of them are saying that, that they don't know much about Europe, about European institutions, and then they lack curricula within the school programmes to teach children, pupils, students more about Europe and European institutions. They lack this European identity, and this is what, I think, I think, but I am not going to preempt, could be one of the conclusions of this conference. So better knowledge of Europe and to somehow fill this gap, which exists between their knowledge and what Europe is doing for them. So, we want to make this gap narrow, if possible, between us, policymakers, and citizens.
Euronews: "Do we have an idea of what is the average profile of those who are joining, participating, and willing to forge this conference?
Dubravka Šuica: "It's only an interim report, so nothing can be preempted in advance and I don't want to talk about outcomes because I don't want to influence citizens ideas since we want to listen to them. But you can see it on the web page of the digital platform. It's more men than women. It's also better educated people and also those from 19 to 40 years old, which means that they are better digitally literate. So this means that we have to improve all this and physical contact is always better. But as you know, as we live under these special circumstances of Omicron at the moment, it's not always easy. So this is what we see at the moment, but it doesn't mean that this will be the final result.
Euronews: "How have the debates gone? Some were a bit stormy, I would say. Some participants feel they don't have enough time, or there are too many topics and they can't say all they want to say."
Dubravka Šuica: "Maybe some of them claim [that], but it is very well organised and it is very fair and correct. Everybody has the same speaking time, which is also very important. All topics are open, everybody can say whatever he or she wants. So we are completely open, although divided in different panels, but there is enough space for everyone. Of course this is, I will say, this is an exercise and we are now thinking how to make this exercise, if I may say, permanent, but it hasn't been decided yet because we think that we have to embed deliberative and participatory democracy within our policy making process in the European Union."
Euronews: "You have the resources (to organise, communicate, reach citizens). But do you have (enough) time?
Dubravka Šuica: "At the beginning, it was envisaged to last two years, as you know, and we could not start because it was lockdown, as you remember. Then we started last year on the Day of Europe, and now it's one year period. Why do we stop this year on May 9? Many citizens ask me. Because we need another half of our mandate in order to implement what citizens will deliberate and what the conclusions will be. Otherwise, it will be the end the mandate and we wouldn't be able to implement anything, and this is the reason. The proper work, for us politicians, starts on May 9 this year after we have conclusions from citizens and recommendations and then we have to start working, all three institutions, and this is the first time in the history of the European Union that three institutions work together on this and that we have a common approach and there is no voting, so everything should be done in a consensus."