22 June 2021

Conference on the Future of Europe and Why It Is Important to Engage with Philanthropy and Civil Society

The Conference on the Future of Europe is an opportunity for European citizens to debate on Europe’s challenges and priorities. The European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission have committed to listen to Europeans and to follow up, within their sphere of competences, on the recommendations made.

Philanthropic organisations and civil society organisations are at the forefront in developing responses to societal challenges as well as in keeping governments and institutions accountable. During today’s challenging times it is more important than ever for philanthropy and civil society to engage with policymakers around the future of Europe, and the Conference on the Future of Europe is a chance to foster civil dialogue with the aim of co-designing the Europe of tomorrow.

Philanthropy Advocacy, a joint Dafne and EFC initiative, has convened a high-level panel inviting both policymakers and civil society representatives to discuss the key objectives of the Conference on the Future of Europe and to provide insights on how European philanthropy and civil society can engage in this endeavour.

Insights were provided by Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul, Member of the Common Secretariat for the Conference on the Future of Europe, Christa Schweng, President of the EESC and observer to the Executive Board of the Conference on the Future of Europe, Alexandrina Najmowicz, Secretary-General of the European Civic Forum and co-chair of the Civil Society Convention, André Wilkens, Executive Director of the European Cultural Foundation and Dominik Hierlemann, Senior Expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The meeting was opened by Delphine Moralis, CEO of the European Foundation Centre, and Max von Abendroth, Executive Director of Dafne – Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe, and facilitated by Hanna Surmatz, legal expert and strong advocate for an enabling operating environment of philanthropy and civil society in Europe.


Ensuring participation, regaining trust


Civil society “can and should rebuild trust in participation, trust in citizens’ power to have a say individually but also collectively on political choices that will affect our lives”, said Alexandrina Najmovicz, Secretary General of the European Civic Forum, formulating the key outcomes of the webinar on the Conference on the Future of Europe. “The biggest danger that we see is the fact that most of the people who need public policy and access to basic rights, they are the ones who don’t participate.”

The Conference on the Future of Europe, inspired by French President Emmanuel Macron in a number of op-eds in the European press in 2019, has precisely this ambition – to reinvigorate citizens’ participation and understanding that policy affects our lives, and the voice of citizens needs to be heard. It was proposed by the European Commission and the European Parliament in 2019, with the purpose of providing an inclusive platform on the long-term future of the European Union.


How is the Conference on the Future of Europe set up?


Seeking to ensure wide participation and inclusivity, an elaborate structure has been set up – deciding who will participate in the Conference on the Future of Europe, and in which format. The Conference Plenary will be composed of 108 representatives from the European Parliament, 54 from the Council (two per Member State) and 3 from the European Commission, as well as 108 representatives from all national Parliaments on an equal footing, and citizens. 108 Europeans will participate to discuss ideas stemming from the Citizens’ Panels and the Multilingual Digital Platform: 80 representatives from the European Citizens’ Panels, of which at least one third will be younger than 25, and 27 from national Citizens’ Panels or Conference events (one per Member State), as well as the President of the European Youth Forum. The selection process for citizen representatives will be completed in the near future.

European Citizens’ Panels will discuss different topics and put forward their proposals; they will be representative in terms of geographic origin, gender, age, socioeconomic background and/or level of education. Conference Plenaries  will ensure that the recommendations from the national and European citizens’ panels, grouped by themes, are debated without a predetermined outcome and without limiting the scope to pre-defined policy areas. Citizens as well as civil society organisations can make proposals for a wide range of topics, among them climate change and the environment; health; economy, social justice and jobs; EU in the world; European democracy; migration and other.


Idea in brief Who participates Key resources
Conference on the future of Europe has been proposed by the French President Emmanuel Macron in 2019.

It is citizen-led and first of its kind, with the purpose to enable people from across Europe to share their ideas on Europe’s future.

The outcomes of the conference are open.

108 European Parliament representatives

54 from the Council, two per each Member State and three from the European Commission

108 National Parliament representatives

108 European citizens, including European and national Citizens’ Panels as well as the President of the European Youth Forum

Multilingual Digital Platform

Calendar with key events for 2021 & 2022

EESC liaison group with civil society and networks

Information on the Civil Society Convention on the Future of Europe

Conference Observatory initiated by a consortium of European philanthropic foundations and EPC

Ambition to be “inclusive, open and transparent”


Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul, Member of the Common Secretariat for the Conference on the Future of Europe, emphasised the inclusive, open and transparent approach of the Conference on the Future of Europe. She highlighted the call to European philanthropy and civil society sector to increase the mobilisation of Europe’s citizens by organising events and raising awareness about the importance of this project – not only short-term, but also long-term.

In this context, EESC President Christa Schweng who bridges European institutions’ work with civil society stressed the importance of engaging with civil society and philanthropy. “We have to come to an understanding of democracy where citizens are included by default”, she said, emphasising the need to go “beyond the Brussels bubble” and to engage with people who are already convinced but also, and even more importantly, with those who are critical about the EU and its role.

This was echoed by Dominik Hierlemann, Senior Expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, who advocated for a randomised approach to ensure wide participation of EU citizens – from different regions, with different interests and backgrounds. “The conference is a catalyst for innovating democracy”, he said, providing insights into the recently launched Conference Observatory – a platform initiated by a consortium of Bertelsmann Stiftung, European Policy Centre, King Baudouin Foundation and Stiftung Mercator, aiming to study, assess and improve the Conference on the Future of Europe.


New Narrative for Europe – Future-, not Past-Oriented


The multilingual platform is key in driving EU citizen participation and in offering space for ideas on the future of Europe. “The future is in your hands”, reads the bold slogan of the website, allowing citizens to contribute ideas in their native language. “The platform is built on trust”, said Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul, and “there is no a priori moderation involved”. Any citizen or civil society organisation can register on the platform, offer suggestions as well as register events and, thus, provide insights into the outcomes. The results will be analysed through a data mining tool and will be made publicly available. Philanthropy’s role in mobilising citizens and initiatives on the ground is key.

It remained unclear how ambitious the implementation of the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe will be and whether there will be any treaty change as a result of this ambitious process. While opinions are largely divided, one thing is clear: the Conference on the Future of Europe is an important step towards asking crucial questions of our time and thinking about Europe’s role in the 21st century that is not past- but future-oriented.

André Wilkens’s suggestion to make 9 May, Europe Day and the day when the Conference on the Future of Conference was launched, a public holiday across Europe, might be the beginning of a new era for Europe. For the European Cultural Foundation, with André Wilkens as its Executive Director, the future of Europe has been at the core not for a year or two but since its very creation in 1954. “Europe is imperfect, and it needs to be improved. But many things are imperfect”.