2021, a year of transition in the European Union, but good prospects for 2022
2021 has been a year of transition in the European Union after the important year 2020, in which important decisions of federal scope were adopted, such as the Recovery Plan and the Next Generation Fund, the purchase and distribution of health material and vaccines, which is proving to be a success, despite the sixth wave, and the doubling of the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027. Although these measures were adopted in the previous year, they have had an impact and special relevance, as they have been implemented and put into operation throughout this year. In addition to these measures, the Covid-19 Certificate of May 2021 has been approved and implemented, which is not only being used for travel within the Schengen area between Member States, but also within states as a measure to control the spread of the virus and has become an international benchmark.
At the international level, it has also strengthened its presence in the world, partly because of the role it is playing in the distribution of vaccines worldwide, through the Covax mechanism. Also noteworthy this year was the implementation of the extension of the notion of strategic autonomy approved at the European Council in October 2020, and the new decisions on human rights sanctions and, subsequently, the exit from Afghanistan and the presentation of the Strategic Compass by the High Representative, Josep Borrell, in November, which involves a proposal for the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy for the next four years that is expected to be approved in March 2022.
It is going unnoticed in Spain, despite being of great importance, and hopefully more so in 2022, the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was convened through the Interinstitutional Declaration, signed in the European Parliament on 10 March 2021, after a delay of one year, as a result of the pandemic and the lack of agreement between the three European Institutions (European Parliament, European Commission and Council of the EU) on the presidency of the Conference. The convening of the CoFoE was made possible thanks to the Portuguese proposal that it be chaired by the three institutions, which unblocked the initial problem and allowed the CoFoE to get underway. However, it has led to several difficulties in its functioning, as well as delays, since a three-way leadership is always more difficult than a single leadership.
The importance of the Conference is that, for the first time, representatives of the institutions and representatives of civil society and citizens are working together to discuss and agree on possible improvements to the reform of the European Union, taking into account the federal developments adopted over the previous year. This is an unprecedented exercise that is being held for the first time in the European Union, and probably in its Member States. It should also be clearly distinguished from the European Convention, where only the representatives of representative democracy, i.e. the representatives of the institutions, draw up proposals for reforming the Treaties.
However, this Conference, which according to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was supposed to be on an equal footing between representatives of the institutions and representatives of citizens and civil society, has not been fully reflected either in its composition or in its functioning. This is mainly because the CoFoE Board or Executive Committee, consisting of the three co-chairs, has the highest powers; and the 449-member Plenary of the Conference is not seated on an equal footing as promised. Only one third of the Plenary is made up of representatives of citizens and civil society, the rest being occupied by representatives of European, national, and regional or local institutions.
In my opinion, the appointment of the chairs of the working groups of the Conference on the Future of Europe, where eight of the nine are chaired by the institutions and appointed by the Board, is not working well either. Neither are the Citizens' Panels, which were to be chosen randomly according to criteria of representativeness, although it seems that they have finally been designated, as is the case in some samples for the preparation of surveys. Something similar is happening with the Multilingual Digital Platform, which is not working properly.
In any case, it should be remembered that the process of European construction was not carried out by isolated citizens, chosen by lot, but by movements formed by strong associations, such as the European Movement, born at the Hague Congress in 1948, or the European Union of Federalists, born a few years earlier. Both associations were made up of people who were in favour of European federation and who understood that in order for there to be no more wars between Europeans, it was necessary to build Europe above the states, under the slogan that "there was no Europe and we had war".
Despite these difficulties and the little repercussion, it is having on public opinion, especially in Spain, we understand that it is an impressive exercise in dialogue that will have consequences in the deepening of the European political model through the convening of a European Convention in which the federal logic will be deepened through the reform of the Treaties.
In this sense, the German government's programme, also known as the traffic light government, to strengthen the European Parliament and its right of legislative initiative, as well as to support transnational lists for the next European elections. As well as the election through the Speakechechen Kandidaten which is ultimately the election of the President of the Commission in the elections by the European Parliament considering the election results. Thirdly, the need to extend qualified majority voting in the Council.
Further on, the Germans point out that they "want to increase Europe's strategic sovereignty", which means increasing their own capacity to act in a global context and in important strategic areas such as, for example, energy supply, health, import of raw materials, technology... We are therefore sure that, if the German position is confirmed, the success of the important developments at the Conference on the Future of Europe, in a federal sense, will be greater. Therefore, the new traffic light government in Germany, beyond other considerations, is a great opportunity.
What would be the minimum content of the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe at the end of its work, and what will be the subjects that will open the Constitutional Convention proposed by the Germans in their programme? In my opinion, it will have to have at least seven major themes: 1) Values, Democracy and Human Rights, including the reform of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union; 2) The Banking and Fiscal Union; 3) The extension of social competences and, in short, the incorporation of the Oporto Agreement of May 2021; 4) The implementation of the European Health Union; 5) Foreign Policy, neighbourhood, defence and, especially, overcoming unanimity in foreign policy; 6) Migrations; 7) and, possibly, the instruments of the fight against depopulation.
Finally, we believe that decisive steps will be taken in the federal logic, as we understand that there is an agreement between the main political forces in the European Parliament, between the governments of the Member States, especially those of the quadrilateral (Germany, France, Italy, and Spain), which account for almost 60% of the EU population; the social partners, the regions and, above all, the perception of civil society. The latest Eurobarometers show that there is a persistent desire for federal deepening in the areas I have just mentioned.