The Conference plenary in Strasbourg once again brought together citizens and representatives of the European Parliament, national parliaments, governments, EU institutions, regional and local authorities, civil society and social partners.
Over the course of two days, they met first in working groups to discuss proposals for EU action in particular fields and then together in plenary to review progress.
The working groups are focusing on the recommendations of European and national citizens’ panels as well as contributions from the Conference’s digital platform. The Russian invasion in Ukraine brings to the fore new challenges to be considered.
The working groups: state of play
A stronger economy, social justice and jobs
While citizens’ representatives in this working group focused on the need for more social protection and social safety, other members of the plenary spoke about supporting industry and small and medium-sized enterprises and fostering innovation.
“The main point [of discussions] was to see how we can ensure economic growth is reconciled with social justice… We need progress on both sides,” said the chair of the working group, Iratxe García Pérez, a Spanish MEP from the S&D group. She emphasised the social and economic consequences of the war in Ukraine and said energy poverty and food security have to be addressed.
Culture, education, youth and sport
Recognition of professional qualifications, support for young people trying to enter the labour market and their involvement in political life were among the topics debated. Speakers said diversity is part of the EU identity and they want multilingualism to be supported as it encourages mobility.
Speakers said the EU should set global standards in the digital sphere. “The common goal is that the EU must become more ambitious and must become a leader in digital connectivity; where there is discussion is how we do that,” said Assita Kanko, a Belgian ECR MEP.
EU-wide referenda, the introduction of pan-EU voting lists at EU elections and giving the European Parliament the right to initiate legislation are among the proposals in the democracy-working group. Many called for more citizen participation in political life.
Values and rights, rule of law, security
Attacks on the rule of law, media freedom and disinformation are among the concerns addressed in the group. Daniel Freund, a German MEP from the Greens/EFA group, warned against dismissing the most ambitious and far-reaching proposals, in particular related to sanctioning rule of law violations: “These proposals need to be taken seriously and they cannot be dismissed because they require more ambitious reforms or even treaty change.”
Climate change and the environment
While creating a circular economy, improving public transport and promoting sustainable consumption remain key objectives, the war in Ukraine puts a new focus on reducing energy dependency and promoting local food production, plenary members said.
Working group members said there is no consensus on the future of nuclear energy, as even if it does not emit greenhouse gases, there are concerns about the disposal of nuclear waste.
The proposals include setting minimum standards for health care, promoting healthy lifestyles and ensuring everyone has access to quality health care. Speakers agreed that health care should be a universal right and insisted on more EU competences in the field.
EU in the world
Reinforcing the EU’s autonomy, using the EU’s power as a trade bloc to influence social and environmental standards abroad and improving decision-making in the EU were some of the foreign policy issues.
Andrius Kubilius, an EPP MEP from Lithuania, called for qualified majority voting in the Council on foreign and security policy recalling the historic example of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom where the requirement of unanimity in parliamentary decision-making was exploited by foreign powers. Kubilius also called for clearer commitment to EU enlargement.
As close to four million Ukrainian refugees come into the EU, speakers said the EU should map the needs of the economy for skilled labour, ensure fair working conditions for migrants and reform the system of receiving migrants, which should be based on solidarity and responsibility sharing.
Coming up next
The working groups will present their draft proposals at the next plenary session of the Conference on 8-9 April. Another session at the end of April will finalise the position of the plenary. The outcome from the Conference will be presented at an event on 9 May.