How does Europe become more
capable of action and which issues should the EU deal with? EU citizens dealt
with these questions for a year as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe. On May 9 – Europe Day – the final report was handed over to the
Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European
Parliament in a formal ceremony.
Recommended are more than 320
measures under nine thematic blocks, ranging from climate change, health and
social affairs, and migration to the EU's role in the world.
Greater alignment in the area of social policy
Many citizens are calling for
an EU framework for minimum wages, stronger joint efforts on gender equity, and
adequate social housing across Europe. In addition, EU citizens want each
Member State to introduce minimum pensions that take into account the standard
of living, poverty line and purchasing power in the respective country. In the
demands of the Conference on Future of Europe it is clear that the national
competences of the Member States should be left unchanged. However, there is a
desire for greater alignment of labour and social regulations. The European
project should become more social, more unified and more tangible. The Member
States certainly see this somewhat more critically.
Health: More competence demanded for Europe
However, the situation is
different when it comes to citizens' demands in the area of health: In the
final report, they explicitly advocate more power in health policy at the
European level. Currently, the competence to design the healthcare system lies
with the Member States (Art. 168 Treaty on the Functioning of the European
Union (TFEU). This means that the organisation of health policy is regulated
nationally, with the EU playing a complementary, coordinating and supporting
role. Art. 168 TFEU gives EU only limited fields of action where it can act,
for example in combating widespread diseases or in cooperating to coordinate
health care in regions close to borders. If the demand for greater powers at
the European level were to be implemented, this would entail an amendment of
the EU treaties.
Conference participants also
call for reducing dependence on third countries for medical devices and pharmaceuticals.
Other topics on the wish list include food labelling, reduction of antibiotic
resistance and common minimum standards for healthcare in all EU countries.
Abolition of the unanimity principle
In the final report, citizens
also called for the strengthening of the European Parliament. It should be even
more involved in the legislative processes. While the European Parliament can
bring forth initiatives, it remains dependent on the goodwill of the European
Commission to move an issue forward by publishing a legislative proposal. In
addition, the principle of unanimity in the Council is to be abolished with
regard to foreign, social, fiscal or budgetary policy and sanctions for
violations of the rule of law. The complete demands of the Conference on the Future of Europe can be found here.
This is how it continues
More competencies in health
policy and the abolition of the unanimity principle would entail changes to the
EU treaties, as well as the holding of a convention.
An amendment of the EU
treaties is currently unlikely and has been ruled out by the Commission. In a published non-paper, 13 EU Member States reminded that all decisions are taken within
the defined distribution of competences and in compliance with subsidiarity and
proportionality. Treaty change was never the goal, according to the signatory
In principle, the
recommendations of the conference, as well as the current situation caused by
the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war, provide sufficient reason to rethink
political cooperation in the European Union. Whether it should also be
restructured remains to be seen.
The European Commission, the
Council and the European Parliament are now examining how and which of the
proposals can be pursued. Initial results are expected in the autumn of 2022.
Then, an event will be held to receive the feedback from the politicians. In
between, there will be initial rounds of bilateral negotiations at the level of
the European institutions to define positions.