EU convenes two-year conference on much-needed modernization

General view of the EP in Brussels

The European Commission presented its own ideas on Wednesday for a two-year conference on modernization and reform within the European Union. The Commission does not expect any comprehensive treaty changes, or major structural changes.

The European Commission hopes to launch the conference on 9 May, exactly seventy years after the Schuman Declaration, which initiated European integration.

The European Parliament already stated last week that the conference should primarily be 'listening to European citizens'. The governments of the EU countries are coming next week with their vision of the future of the EU. The three institutions then have to agree on the objectives, scope and organization of the conference, which is expected to take about two years.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had promised a conference last summer on further democratization of the European Union. The conference is more or less an answer to the already smoldering dissatisfaction with the functioning of EU institutes. Shortly after taking office a few years ago, the young, liberal French president Macron had enthusiastically called for some far-reaching reforms and innovations, which were then kindly discarded by many other European heads of government.

European Parliament President David Sassoli spoke of a "cornerstone for building the new Europe". According to him, the crises of the past ten years, such as the Brexit, have demonstrated the limitations of the current governance model. The EU must be more democratic, more transparent and more effective, with the broad participation of European citizens, he decided.

The increasing anti-European mood in Britain during the Brexit process, and the increasing nationalist tendencies in some Eastern European countries, also made it increasingly clear that adjustments in procedures and rules are needed. In addition, last May, shortly after the European elections, the heads of government and heads of state abruptly put aside the 'pointed candidates' of the European Parliament for high EU positions.

This revived the decades-long 'struggle for power' between the EU countries and the European Parliament, which ultimately controls the executive organization of the European Commission. Moreover, some fear that the EU is secretly looking for more federalism and more new tasks and powers.

The Dutch MEP Peter van Dalen (ChristenUnie) was skeptical. According to him, few learn lessons from discontent that ultimately led to the Brexit. The European Conservatives and nationalists are planning to hold their own conference.