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Please let the Conference be about people’s hopes and dreams!

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In the run-up to the first Conference Plenary, which will take place on Saturday, June 19th in Strasbourg, the Lisbon event gave us a taste of citizens’ participation in the works. Hopefully, after such an appetiser, the main course will not betray expectations!

European citizens are eager to participate in EU democratic processes: this is apparent to anyone who has followed the recent Lisbon European citizens’ event, which was held on June 17th, 2021. As the title suggests, it was organised in Lisbon by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, under the framework of the Conference for the Future of Europe.

The event was meant to allow participants to discuss their expectations from the Conference with Portugal’s secretary of state for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, European Commission executive vice-president Dubravka Šuica, and Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP who is co-chair of the executive board of the Conference on the Future of Europe. After a brief debate between the panellists, ample space was given to the Q&A session. Participants were encouraged to ask questions and share their views on how a desirable outcome of the Conference should be.

Did it work? Of course, it did. Taking from Mr Verhofstadt’s words, “People like Europe, it’s just they don’t always agree on how the European Union is actually run. And that’s what the Conference on the Future of Europe is about: conjugating representative and participative democracy”. Is there anything on which we can agree more?

He then explained that the Conference purpose is not “to hold a marketing exercise. We want the citizens, including those who are sceptic about the Union and those who were never involved in the European democratic process, to share their expectations and their dreams. We need to change policies and strategies and reshape our institutions to adapt them to this 21st Century, and we want all citizens from different backgrounds and walks of life to be part of these reforms”.

This will undoubtedly lead, as we have also seen during the event, to conflicts and heated discussions. Welcome! That’s what is needed: it is a fact that problems cannot be solved with unilateral propositions. As long as it’s functional to building new proposals, even conflict is not destructive at all. It only highlights the fact that what is at stake matters to those who debate.

Solidarity was the theme of commissioner Šuica’s address, who underlined that “Little by little, solidarity has grown among European people. We need collaboration and understanding between citizens of different member states and between young and old, amongst people with disparate world views. This kind of solidarity is the strength of democracy, a value that all Europeans have in common”.

“We need more awareness and respect for our cultural and intellectual diversity because that’s the basis on which European unity is built”, stated Ms Zacarias, before explaining to participants how the various elements of the Conference will interact: outcomes from the web-based platform and the Citizens Panels will be convened to the Plenary, which will report them to EU Institutions so they can act in conformity. The inaugural Conference Plenary session will take place in Strasbourg on Saturday, June 19th. Let’s hope to see more of this!