Izaskun Bilbao and the Conference on the Future of Europe: "We need a Europe built from the bottom up".
One of the most important tasks facing the European Union in the coming years is to adapt our institutional structures to the challenges of the future in order to achieve a more effective and powerful European Union. These reforms, which the new times demand of us, must be carried out with the participation of citizens. In short, we need a European Union, based on values, useful to the people and peoples who make it up, and supported by its citizens. The Conference on the Future of Europe offers us the opportunity to analyse the deficits of the past and present and to face a future of changing paradigms with guarantees of success.
Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Basque MEP, presents her view on this important issue.
What are the new internal and external challenges facing the Union since the Treaty of Lisbon?
The pandemic was as much a lesson for Europe as the financial crisis of 2008. All Member States understood that global crises of this scale and depth require other tools to resolve them.
On the economic and governance side, there are tools that were not included in the Lisbon Treaty and which started to be put in place during the 2008 crisis. Processes such as the European semesters have been fundamental for the next step to be taken, to get into debt together in order to get out together of the crisis generated by the pandemic. Without these consolidated mechanisms of economic governance and financial supervision, there would have been no recovery plan and we would not have tested the procedures for managing "Next generation" funds.
In the area of health, we have also learned that we need to strengthen the European disease surveillance system and the European Medicines Agency. We have also demonstrated our capacity, if we work together, to deal with such powerful conglomerates as the pharmaceutical industry and the great role that the Union plays as a driving force for innovation.
We also recalled the importance of one of our founding values, solidarity. It would have been terrible if each Member State had competed with the others for doses of vaccine which, without the impetus of the Union, would now be a project.
Many sectors have understood all the advantages of a true single European area in the fields of transport, finance, digital, health, justice and freedom, and the best thing that can happen to us as a Union is that we learn and dare to change the treaties that these crises have taught us to change.
Finally, we are facing structural global challenges, such as climate change, which we also need to solve together. The green deal, the circular economy, digitisation and energy transition will be better addressed together as Europeans than alone as French, Germans, Spaniards or Basques.
What institutional and political reforms are needed to make the European Union more efficient, more democratic and closer to its citizens?
In my opinion, the most important reforms consist of putting an end to the unanimity rule, strengthening the role and capacity of the European Union by definitively resolving the problem of own resources and harmonising tax systems. Tax dumping and competition between Member States has proved disastrous for tax collection.
We also need to bring decision-making processes closer to citizens, with more transparency and participation. In this respect, I think the Commission's relationship with the citizens' initiative is problematic. I also believe that enormous opportunities to promote proximity are being missed because neither the proximity of local and regional institutions nor their capacities as promoters of innovation and economic development are sufficiently exploited. Fortunately, in many operational programmes such as "Horizon", this reality is making progress.
There is a lot to discuss and the best thing that can happen is that this conference takes place, as suggested in the European Parliament's resolution, without veto and in a spirit of real openness.
"We need a Europe built from the bottom up, in which diversity is truly seen as a richness and a value and in which there are people, communities, nations, countries, states, which add up with conviction".
What weaknesses of the EU have been identified and what measures does it propose to address and resolve them?
I think this question has already been answered. To sum up, we must strengthen the Union's common institutions, essentially the Commission and Parliament, we must put an end to the obscurantism and lack of transparency in the European Council and the false solidarity between Member States that paralyses many of the Union's initiatives, and we must bring the Union closer to the citizens, which implies a different type of relationship with the institutions.
I am one of those who believe, for example, that this proximity humanises and that a policy as comprehensive as immigration policy would be much better if, at the Council table where these policies are decided, in addition to passports, we discussed people, the services they need and the real possibilities for integration and reception. National governments are aware of the existence of passports. For the rest, regions and cities are the places where integration really takes place.
What models of participation and involvement of civil society and citizens would you like to see at the Conference on the Future of Europe?
I hope that there will be much more than a pretend participation. This problem cannot be solved by cosmetic operations. It is a major challenge. If someone wants to solve it through an account on different social networks, he or she will be mistaken. We must move on to a deep and telluric process and, once again, the proximity and connection of local institutions with citizens and the civil society movement can and must play a fundamental role. The best response against populism and fake news is to form and develop a process of proximity and participation that breaks the vicious circle of lies and the fires it tends to kindle.
What results do you expect from the conference?
If we are intelligent and if we believe in the European project, in a profound democratisation of the Union and in a significant step towards a federal Europe, I believe. We need a Europe built from the bottom up, in which diversity is truly seen as a richness and a value and in which there are people, communities, nations, countries, states, which add up with conviction. The pandemic has shown us how far we can go if we go together.