Designing our future in the EU: Secret consultations the basis for changes in the Union?
The conference on the future of Europe is already beginning to be treated as the basis for a thorough reconstruction of the EU towards a federal vehicle, promoted, inter alia, by chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Recently, I met a German analyst working for a Berlin think tank focused mainly on EU green policy. The analyst wanted to talk to me about the “Conference on the Future of Europe”… I can bet that at this point most of the readers raised their eyebrows, asking: “What?!”
The “Conference on the Future of Europe”, a joint undertaking of the European Parliament (co-chaired by a well-known admirer of our country, Guy Verhofstadt), the European Council, and the European Commission, lasted over a year and has come to an end, with its results already officially announced. The only thing is that, apart from those professionally engaged in European affairs, almost no one heard of this conference – although officially its main goal was to consult ideas for the future of the EU with citizens of the EU countries. My German colleague, to whom I explained that in Poland the matter is known only to a fraction of people, admitted that it did not surprise him, as it was similar in all countries where he discussed this topic.
How is it possible that an initiative intended to involve citizens in a debate is taking place not only in the margins but also almost in secret? Or is that what it is all about? Maybe the goal is to pretend these are consultations?
CONSULTATIONS IN SECRET
Those who have been following the life of the EU for years will certainly remember the years 2003–2004, when the work on a Constitution for Europe was in progress in the Union. At that time, there was a body called the European Convention, which was to prepare the act. The late former French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, became the chairman of the Convention. As part of bringing the project closer to citizens in various EU countries, several meetings on the constitution were held in the form of a traveling theater. They had absolutely no significance for the final shape of the treaty, which did not come into force (as a treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe) due to the lost referenda in France and the Netherlands. It then returned in a slightly changed form as the Treaty of Lisbon, which is the basis of the functioning of the EU today.
What was the purpose of the meetings around the project supervised by d’Estaing? They were to create the appearance of civic consultation and support. Exactly the same is the case today with the “Conference on the Future of Europe” – it almost literally repeats this pattern, only with the use of newer technologies (meetings, debates, and panels which can take place online).
How did the “Conference …” involve EU citizens? There were so-called citizens’ assemblies and events around the initiative. Citizens’ assemblies were held – please note – only 12 times, four of which were on-line. There were four subject areas: a stronger economy, social justice, employment, education, youth, culture and sport, digital transformation; European democracy, values and rights, rule of law, security; climate change, health; Union in the world, migrations. One of the meetings was even held in Warsaw in January this year and was related to climate policy. 200 randomly selected citizens from 27 member states participated in each panel. It is difficult to say, however, how this randomness was reconciled with the idea of “mirroring the diversity of the EU” in terms of geographic origin, age or gender. It is not difficult to see that the opinion value of panels constructed in this way was nonexistent. In fact, these were meetings for the exceptionally interested, in no way presenting the views of EU societies.
Following the information about the panel organized in Warsaw, Rafał Subocz asked how he could take part in the meeting and whether it was open to the public. He asked in Polish. Siegbert Brand answered him in German, kindly informing him that the event was inaccessible to outsiders, because its participants had been picked out earlier. These are the only two comments about the Warsaw meeting. On the appointment scheduling page, this is the norm: most have few or even zero comments. The most – as many as 28! – comments were collected by the Dublin panel from February this year, devoted, inter alia, to national language issues. In total, under the information about the panels, there were – note – 55 comments, which clearly illustrates the scale of interest. Across all of Europe.
There were also national panels and events. Six discussions took place in Poland – all at the expert level and for experts. There were many more such events in Germany, including many open ones. In France, 18 regional conferences were organized, each with the participation of several dozen randomly selected people. On the web, 50,000 young French people expressed their opinions about the future of Europe. Compared to other countries, Poland’s activity in this area was among the lowest. Even so, in the scale of the whole EU it is difficult to talk about mass participation, even taking into account that in many countries there were many more meetings organized as part of the “Conference …” than in Poland.
The method of organizing citizens’ participation in the “Conference …” was manipulated, and the conclusions drawn were adjusted to the previously adopted assumptions, consistent with the federalist trend of thinking about the Union – stated a group of European Conservatives and Reformists, to which in PiS belongs to the European Parliament, in April, shortly before the presentation of the final results in May. The ECR said that the call for Brussels to be given more powers at the expense of member states was “brutally pushed” by manipulating the selection of participants and experts. Even the organizers of the “Conference …” were accused of financial irregularities.
PiS MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski stated: “[‘The Conference on the Future of Europe’] was to be a field of broad consultation on the direction in which the EU should go in the coming years, on the basis of a free debate taking into account various visions. Instead, it has turned out to be one more attempt by some political families to create the false impression that there is a consensus on the future of Europe with no alternative to further centralizing and reducing the role of the member states”. It should be noted that the ECR did not reject the trial a priori. Even then, it was possible to have serious suspicions about its nature and the intentions of its initiators.
A PREDETERMINED DIRECTION
What conclusions did the “Conference …” bring? They were grouped into packages of 49 proposals. All of them are written in the classic European newspeak and use typical key phrases such as “sustainable development”, “better future”, “caring for diversity”. However, when you see beneath the surfaces, it is evident that everything is heading in the one and only approved direction.
For example, in the climate change and transport package, it is promoted to share electric vehicles (and consequently give up car ownership), but also “regulate the mining of cryptocurrencies, which consumes large amounts of energy”. There is, of course, also a postulate to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources as much as possible. In the package on agriculture, in the first place there is the promotion of “green agriculture”, which is roughly what Polish Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski likes to force, and which would mean attacking those who are the most needed today – the most effective large farmers, producing the most food. In the case of animal husbandry, there is no demand to ban it, but a focus on “animal welfare”. In the field of employment, we have a ritual emphasis on gender equality, as well as dangerous demands to harmonize the standards of the minimum wage. It is postulated that private companies must be forced to adopt a specific employment policy in order to ensure a sufficient number of jobs for unspecified “minorities”. As it is not difficult to imagine, in practice this could mean the compulsion of accepting incompetent people but identifying themselves with one of the letters of the constantly elongated LGBTQ + abbreviation.
The demands concerning the functioning of the EU itself look particularly dangerous. There is a postulate for the compulsory adoption of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and for the enforcement of its compliance, as well as an offensive application of the conditionality mechanism. There is also a demand to introduce “minimum standards of media independence”. I wrote about such a concept in the “Do Rzeczy” weekly a few months ago from Brussels, where this topic appeared in backstage talks. In practice, this would mean the possibility of constant Brussels interventions in the media order of the Member States. Only if it was considered politically useful, of course.
Finally, we have a postulate that is probably the only one that made its way into the political mainstream in Poland: the issue of resigning from unanimity in the EU Council on all issues where such a requirement was still maintained, including the common foreign and security policy. These matters would be based on a majority vote. By the way, the role of the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy would be strengthened. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has already supported such a revision of the Treaties – but it would be an absolutely fundamental change. Decisions on these issues therefore still belong to the sphere of unanimity, that sovereign foreign policy is one of the basic distinguishing features of the state. The relinquishment of sovereignty in this matter to a collective body such as the Council of the EU would de
facto mean the end of the EU of nation states and the crossing of the federal border of the Union. This is not a cosmetic change, but an earthquake. A symbolic testimony to this is another postulate to change the names of European institutions. The Council of the EU would be called the “EU Senate” and the European Commission – the Executive Commission. There is also a call to return to the discussion of the “Constitution”.
BASIS FOR CHANGE
The conference on the future of Europe is already beginning to be treated – this can be seen, for example, in the statement of Ms. von der Leyen on the annulment of the unanimity rule – as the basis for a thorough reconstruction of the EU towards a federal vehicle, promoted, inter alia, by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. It is evident that the war in Ukraine did not invalidate anything in this realm – on the contrary, it is starting to be treated as an additional impulse and an opportunity to change the way the Union operates. Which, in turn, could mean a return to the threat of a two-speed Europe. But that’s another story.