Ursula von der Leyen – EU proposes three people lead conference on bloc’s future – POLITICO
Why have one president when you can have three?
In a bid to kickstart the Conference on the Future of Europe, the bloc is considering appointing the heads of the three main EU institutions as its president(s).
Several MEPs and EU officials said the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU proposed making the Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen, the Council’s Charles Michel (or the leaders of the country that holds the rotating EU presidency) and the Parliament’s David Sassoli the leaders of the conference, which aims to revamp the bloc and bring it closer to its citizens. The new text would therefore remove a paragraph in the initial Council proposal which stated that an “eminent European personality” would act as as the conference’s “independent and single chair.”
Sassoli himself presented the new proposal at a closed-doors lunch with the EU’s 27 ambassadors on Wednesday, according to a senior Parliament official.
Officials added that as part of the proposal, the conference would have an executive board featuring MEPs from each political group as well as officials from the Commission and Council.
“A joint presidency with the presidents of the three institutions seems to be the way forward to get out of the deadlock,” said Gabriele Bischoff, a German Social Democrat MEP closely involved in work on the conference. “The Conference on the Future of Europe has to start now — any further delay puts its credibility at stake and risks to kill this initiative before its start.”
All three main EU institutions have agreed (more or less) on the scope and general outline of the conference, but there has been months of wrangling over who should be in charge and further delays to its launch — envisioned for last spring — due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The deadlock over leadership began when the Parliament made senior MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt its pick to preside over the conference. Verhofstadt has long been considered a nonstarter by several EU governments, who see him as a champion of European federalism. In November last year, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish prime minister, emerged as the front-runner but officials said she failed to secure enough support among EU countries.
One EU official said it was likely that Verhofstadt would represent his Renew Europe group on the executive board.
On Wednesday, Dubravka Šuica, Commission vice president for democracy and demography, told reporters that the leadership battle had “not been settled yet.” But, Šuica said, “if there would be agreement on a single chair, it’s fine for us … if not, then co-presidency is also fine for us.”
“We would like to start this activity as soon as possible,” she added.
The idea of a Conference on the Future of Europe was first raised in 2019 by French President Emmanuel Macron, who argued it should “propose all the necessary changes to our political project, without any taboos, not even treaty revision.”
The Parliament has been a keen supporter of the project, calling for the establishment of citizens’ forums to discuss how the EU should be reshaped — from allowing voters to choose MEPs from transnational lists to greater use of qualified majority voting by EU governments to speed up decision-making.