Conference on the Future of Europe: What’s in it for philanthropy?
If one thing has become clear during the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent Russian aggression against Ukraine, it is that there are real questions on the future of Europe. To what extent is the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) providing answers to these questions, and what is its relevance in current times? What can we learn from the European Union’s first attempt at deliberative democracy through the year-long Conference? The CoFoE adopted its final conclusions at the occasion of Schuman Day on 9 May 2022, which offers us the opportunity to stop, reflect, and consider the way forward.
What were the challenges met during the CoFoE?
When the Conference was announced, a lot of expectations were raised but were left unmet. Indeed, the CoFoE was presented as an innovative exercise in direct citizen consultation, but concerns were raised on the planning and preparation of the CoFoE process. For instance, the representation of civil society organisations, the backbone of organised civil society, was very limited from the outset. Moreover, when the process was heading towards its final date, there remained a lack of clarity on how the final recommendations would be dealt with. It was left to the Executive Board to take decisions on the recommendations, as opposed to holding a final plenary vote. A small budget and limited human resources were in stark contrast with the high expectations raised by the EU institutions. Still today, many questions remain on how the recommendations will be adopted within the different EU institutions.
How has Philea engaged around the CoFoE?
Our European Philanthropy Manifesto recommends that policymakers implement the civil dialogue, and from this perspective we have engaged around the CoFoE in several ways. We informed and engaged our members and the wider philanthropic sector on the process through webinars and briefings. We have joined forces with wider civil society in the Convention on the Conference on the Future of Europe, where we actively co-shaped the clusters dealing with equal opportunities and social protection (Social Europe Cluster), and the cluster discussing the main challenges for democracy (Democratic Europe Cluster). We also provided input into the other clusters and the final recommendations. Last but not least, we have represented philanthropic organisations within the European Economic and Social Committee Liaison Group for civil society (EESC LG), where Philea holds a seat. Points raised in this context were brought to the CoFoE by EESC President Christa Schweng in her capacity as Observer to the Executive Board. Simultaneously, Philea members Bertelsmann Stiftung, King Baudouin Foundation and Stiftung Mercator have together with the European Policy Centre set up the Conference Observatory as a platform aimed to study, assess and improve the CoFoE.
Towards the implementation of Manifesto recommendation 1: Recognise philanthropy and engage with it
To conclude, we can observe that the process and the content of the CoFoE showcase the real need for civil dialogue and for our European Philanthropy Manifesto recommendation 1. Indeed, the CoFoE recommendations under the chapter on European Democracy take note of the need to strengthen mechanisms to include organised civil society and civil dialogue “at every step of the EU decision-making process”, including by empowering the EESC’s role as a facilitator of civil dialogue.
To follow up on this recommendation the EESC LG established a working group which will develop a proposal by July 2022, looking into the way the LG works and investigating EESC cooperation with EU CSOs within the LG.
Regarding the Civil Society Convention, the Convention is convening a high-level conference in Paris on 30 June 2022 to discuss with EU representatives lessons learned from the CoFoE process and next steps; how civil society can get involved in the follow-up and implementation phase; and how the role of civil society can be strengthened in the future policymaking and political processes. At this occasion, the final report of the Convention will be published.
Philea continues to make the case for an enabling environment for philanthropy, including a better implementation of Article 11 TEU.