Is a “Perpetual CoFoE” on the horizon?

Just when the « Conference on the Future of Europe » seems to be dead in the water, suffering from a lack of any proper media attention, given how it now appears clear to most what kind of a rigged exercise it has become – not that this should surprise – some are pushing for CoFoE to become … permanent.

In a speech to MEPs, Former European Council President Herman van Rompuy urged to avoid making the Conference on the Future of Europe a “one-off exercise”.

His argument?

“Democracy is in crisis, and it will not be over after the conference, so we need to continue our work together to improve democracy at all levels of power.”

Those taking part in the conference may wonder whether the conference, which is beset by questions about its legitimacy, constitutes a proper democratic exercise, but he’s not alone.

In EUObserver, a number of academics point out that French President “Emmanuel Macron is hoping to harvest its results before the French presidential election”.

They are right about that, of course, as we’ve pointed out, but they seem to fail to see the upside that if Macron is re-elected, he may no longer bother with the whole thing.

They argue that “the French presidency should open the way for the continuation of the conference.”

Get read for a “Perpetual CoFoE”?

Talking shops fail to generate interest

More details are emerging about the failure of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” to actually represent … an actual “Conference on the Future of Europe”. For now, the name “EU talking shop” would be a more appropriate name.

This is yet more evident as according to new revelations that “over half of the online panel participants” on 5 November stated to not have seen media coverage of CoFoE, noting that interest at national level was lacking.

One CoFoE partipant testifies to Euractiv:

“I tried to speak about this to media representatives, but here in Cyprus, Europe seems like something far away”.

Another participant mentions the reason why journalists can’t be bothered to cover the event:

“There are too many topics to discuss, and there is no time at the end of group discussions to make a proper sum up. There is not enough time to speak about proposals, only keywords or general ideas.”

Of course, this doesn’t stop MEP Charles Goerens – from Luxembourg – from claiming that CoFoE is “the largest democratic reflection this continent has ever known”.

It also won’t stop the usual suspects – from French President Macron to money and power hungry MEPs – from attempting to use whatever comes out of CoFoE as a legitimate justification to further their agenda of EU centralization.  

A “Largely ignored Conference”

In a new article, Euractiv, calls the “Conference on the Future of Europe” a “Largely ignored Conference”. It mentions that outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently suggested to use the talking shop to discuss the recent ruling by the Polish supreme court on the supremacy of the EU Treaties over the Polish Constitution. Merkel said CoFoE was “actually a good place to discuss” this thing.

The backstory is that Merkel is worried to clash with Poland and Hungary, saying “it is getting harder and harder” to find compromises between European Union countries on hot-button issues like migration and the rule of law.

What better forum to basically bury the existing tensions then the CofoE talking shop, where “citizens” along with “experts” – the usual suspects – parrot statements in support of more power for the EU.

The Euractiv piece highlights how important people basically ignore the whole thing. “The first three rows should be VIPs or guests; not many of them are here,” Mark Plesko, representative of the Slovenian national panels revealed, as, according to him, the lack of high-level interest in the conference “is an excellent metaphor for the European Union.”

Also, “very few EU citizens participated via the digital platform”, Euractiv adds: only 22,500 participants, which is “relatively low”, as the platform received 3.5 million unique visitors.

One conclusion should already be clear now: the legitimacy of this thing is zero, so none of the EU-fanatic suggestions coming out of it should be dignified with any attention.

Hurting EU member states in the name of Europe

It is not exactly a secret that the whole point of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” is to serve as a PR exercise for Emmanuel Macron to be re-elected as French President next year. In effect, the “#COFOE” also ends at the time of that election.

Beyond the “pro-European” rhetoric, it really is “business as usual” for the French government. For Paris, “pro-European” means whatever is in the interest of France, even if it comes at the detriment of other EU member states.

A good example of that is an “EU minimum wage”, which would create mass unemployment if applied stringently across the EU in poorer member states where employers need to have the ability to pay lower wages so to be able to exploit their biggest asset: that people are willing to work for less.

That is of no concern at all for the French government.

At the Conference on the Future of Europe in Toulouse on Saturday, Macron’s Prime Minister blatantly stated that an EU-wide minimum wage is “necessary at all costs”, adding it is was even a “priority”.

He also said:

“I’m going to be very concrete here, on the idea of a European minimum wage because we have countries with very different labour rights. (…) We are in an open area and the countries with the most advanced social policies are penalised.”

Anyone with a slight notion of France’s social spending is aware of how bloated it is and how great the scope for efficiency savings. Obviously, Macron and his allies are very keen to avoid such reform, and if that can happen by penalising poorer EU member states, that sounds like a great deal to the current French administration.

All in the name of “Europe”, of course.

The EU variant of the French “grand débat”

“President Kagame holds bilateral talks with President of France, Emmanuel Macron | New York,18 September 2017” by Paul Kagame is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over the weekend, 200 voters descended onto Strasbourg to join the opening panel of the so-called “Conference on the Future of Europe”, in order to take part in “citizen assemblies” to debate topics as various as climate change, migration and health policy (never mind that the EU only has very limited powers on health policy). The Financial Times reports that “after three days of consultation, participants were most interested in prioritising topics such as EU taxes, common education standards and greater access to sports.”

The idea is that this will then feed into other debates, which also involve MEPs and “civil society organisations” – or rather, supposed society organisations. This would then need to result in conclusions during the time of the French EU presidency, in Spring 2022, two months before the country’s presidential elections.

This timetable is no coincidence. The CoFoE scheme has been pushed by French president Emmanuel Macron, to “breathe new democratic life into our institutions”. The citizens’ panels are similar to Macron’s “grand débat”, whereby citizen assemblies were convened in 2018, to assist the French government in its decision-making.

The FT notes that these “ultimately ended inconclusively”, raising the question: “Whether the citizens being consulted this time around will be able to navigate the conference’s own bureaucracy — which includes a joint presidency, an executive board and a common secretariat — is another matter.”

None of that should come as a surprise. Shall the CoFoE “citizen panels” be anything different then the EU variant of the “grand débat”? There should not be a lot of doubt…

German government reveals data showing public interest for CofoE is very low

In response to a parliamentary question, the German government sheds some light on the success of the so-called “Conference on the Future of Europe”, also known as “CofoE”. And what do we learn? Surprise, surprise: “Engagement with the platform so far is low”, as a German scholar summarizes the German government’s response.

He highlights the bit that “Overall, ~170k visits were counted from Germany, the most of any country in the EU. This is less Engagement than many tweets get on here.”

Of course, low engagement by citizens is very unlikely to prevent the usual suspects from abusing the “findings” to push their agenda to grant ever more power to the EU.

Shameless bias

As the political season restarts, the so-called “Trio Presidency of the EU Council”, composed of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, has “kicked off promoting the Conference on the Future of Europe with 4 slogans on 35 trams around Helsinki”, featuring propaganda slogans like “Europe United”. The Portugese Embassy specifies the goal is to promote “”a stronger and more united European Union”.

Any doubts that the whole “#CofoE” thing was was never going to be a neutral, unbiased conversation can now be put to rest. Finnish citizens can witness first-hand “communication” schemes promoting EU centralisation, at their expense.

Will the European Parliament’s leadership allow debate on CoFoE transparency?

Earlier this month, a coalition of four prominent MEPs from various European countries has launched an initiative to demand “full transparency with regard to the expenditure of the Conference on the Future of Europe”, in a motion for a resolution submitted to the European Parliament.

This is a topic we’ve been highlighting on this blog at several occasions.

In particular, the MEPs highlight in their motion for a resolution that:

  • “promotion of the conference began before its launch and is ongoing”
  • “public data indicates the spending of substantial sums of money to promote the conference”
  • “the total impact of activities relating to the conference on the EU budget is unclear”

It may not be a surprise to see that the MEPs (Swedish MEP Charlie Weimers, Finnish MEP Laura Huhtasaari, Danish MEP Peter Kofod and Dutch MEP Michiel Hoogeveen) are coming from Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, where transparency in public policy is considered of essential democratic importance.

The MEPs also stress they consider “it of the utmost importance to the future of Europe that EU institutions live up to citizens’ expectations with regard to transparency, openness and good governance”.

Therefore, they call “on the Commission, the Council and Parliament to show their commitment to transparency without delay by publishing all calls for proposals and tenders and all grants and other funding awarded in relation to the conference, as well as publishing a full account of the total costs incurred and expected, including a breakdown of expenditure by type of activity on an easily accessible and dedicated ‘sunshine section’ of the official conference platform.”

We really cannot wait to see whether the establishment groups in the EP will endorse this initiative or at least even allow discussion about it? Their OK is needed for it go forward. One would think this matter should be pretty obvious, but make no mistake about it: in April, a majority of Members of European Parliament already shamelessly voted against financial transparency surrounding the “Conference on the Future of Europe”, with Pirate MEPs and other supposedly pro transparency types coming up with all kinds of lame excuses to justify their questionable voting behaviour.

Will leading MEPs now change tack and embrace the transparency coalition, or at least allow discussion about the problematic transparency of the Conference on the Future of Europe”? We cannot wait to find out.

Quantifying the bias of the Conference on the Future of Europe

In an analyis worth reading, German AfD MEP Gunnar Beck takes a profound look at the speakers at the “Inaugural Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe”, a topic we have covered earlier on this blog.

In the document, Beck discusses the “problems and possible solutions” surrounding “CoFoE”, as the farcical undertaking has come to be known.

He notes that “163 speakers took the floor” and that “40 Members of the European Parliament, 28 members of the Council of the EU, 27 citizens, representatives of national and regional parliaments, 6 representatives of civil society organisations, 5 members of the Commission, 9 members of the Committee of the Regions, 5 representatives of social partners, and 5 representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee”.

Interestingly, he has categorized each speech in one of three categories, noting that 110 were “pro EU”, only 20 were “Eurosceptic” and 33 were “neutral”.

Looking at the “citizens” in particular, he notes that 55.6% of them were “pro-EU”, only 11.1% were “eurosceptic” and 33.3% were “neutral”.

Possibly even worse is “civil society”, where 83% were “pro-EU”, 17% were “eurosceptic” and 0% were “neutral”.

This should not surprise, as in our previous blog we highlighted some of these “citizens”, revealing that pretty much all of them were EU insiders, often even on the EU’s payroll.

Beck concludes:

“If compared to the most recent data from Eurobarometer on the Future of Europe, all categories of speakers showed a clear disproportionate support for more EU integration. This means that, based on the general sentiments expressed at the Inaugural Plenary, we can expect the Conference to come forward with ambitious compromises asking for more integration at EU level. This is clearly not in line with the general views and preferences of European citizens. This risks to further alienate citizens from the European project, and deepen, rather than close the chasm between the EU institutions and European citizens.”

Exclusive: who are the “citizens” of the EU Future Conference?

The inaugural plenary of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” took place in Strasbourg, in the building of the European Parliament, which moves there every month as part of its costly “traveling circus”. During the session, a number of so-called “citizens” and members of “civil society” intervened, to contribute to the debate of what supposedly constitutes the “future of Europe”

On this blog, we can EXCLUSIVELY reveal how many of these so-called “citizens” can hardly be described as randomly chosen people. Instead, a lot of them, appear to be “EU insiders”, people deeply involved in EU policy making, and often on the EU’s payroll.

An overview:

George Pagoulatos, Professor at Athens University of Economics and Business, as well as Visiting Professor at the College of Europe since 2006

Daniela Ioana Toutpati – academic at Brussels VUB university and “Understanding Europe Coordinator” of the “European Youth Parliament”

Silja Markkula, European Youth Forum

Gergana Passy, Founder and President of PanEuropa Bulgaria

Nikolai Boysen, European Youth Forum

Stephanie Hartung, Pulse of Europe

Francisco Aldecoa, political scientist, author of La Europa que viene: el tratado de Lisboa

Noelle O’Connell, ceo of European Movement Ireland

Martin Mrsa, Croatian Youth Association “Youth in the European Union”

Antonis Kourras, President of Cyprus Youth Council, which promotes “EU Youth Dialogue” on its website

Kristine Zonberga, European Citizens Initiative Ambassador, Latvia

Justinas Kulys, Policy Analyst at the European Economic and Social Committee

Kinga Joo, member at European Economic and Social Committee

Mandy Falzon, appointed by Maltese Europe Minister Helena Dalli as the designate Head of MEUSAC- the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee (MEUSAC), first set up in 1999 to oversee the process of Malta’s accession to the European Union

Leverne Nijman, Dutch Youth Representative European Affairs, Dutch Youth Council

Elsie Gisslegård, an active member of the Swedish EU-federalist Centre Party

Regina Bastos, former Portugese MEP

Alina Bârgăoanu, Center for European Studies at Harvard (likely EU funded)

Ninni Norra, selected as Finland’s citizen representative, has served in the local council of the European Youth Parliament

Paola Severino, former Italian Justice Minister, serving under Italian PM Mario Monti, Italy’s favorite PM among eurocrats

Apart from these so-called “citizens”, there were also members supposedly representing “civil society”. Among these, there were representatives of the “European Movement International” and the “Union of European Federalists (UEF)”. Surely, receiving EU cash should disqualify any organisation to be presented as “civil society”, certainly in the context of an EU policy discussion.

This whole thing simply is a farce.