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…

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