This Thursday 21 January, Dorien Nijs will travel to Strasbourg and the European Parliament where she will present Belgium’s citizens’ panel recommendations at the plenary session (21 and 22 January) of the Conference on the future of Europe. Sophie Wilmès, in her capacity as Minister for European Affairs, was  present at the Brussels-Midi railway station this morning to express her support and wish her good luck.

As one of the 27 Member States of the European Union, Belgium has decided to actively participate in this conference in various ways, including the establishment of national panels of Belgian citizens from a wide range of backgrounds. In October, 50 citizens, including Dorien Nijs, were randomly selected to represent the Belgian population. Over three weekends, these citizens met to discuss one of the nine themes of the conference, i.e. European democracy and more specifically public participation in the European Union.

The work ended in mid-December. Around 100 recommendations received a majority of votes and are included in the Belgian proposal for the future of Europe. The citizens made recommendations on five themes that they had chosen:

  1. Improving communication about the European Union
  2. Identifying and combating misinformation about the EU
  3. Citizens’ panels as a tool for participation
  4. Referendums in EU affairs
  5. Improving existing participatory instruments in the European Union

In general, as to reach the largest number of people, the European Union is invited to strive to simplify, make comprehensible and accessible the communication and information on the priority subjects dealt with at its level. Conversely, the EU is asked to fight against misinformation and to oblige social media to integrate it into their platforms. The participants believe that voluntary citizens panels, informed by experts, are useful and effective in involving citizens in democracy. The organisation of referendums for the European population was also suggested as a possible means of participation. Finally, it was felt that existing participatory instruments, such as the citizens’ initiative and the right of petition, are not sufficiently known to the general public.

The recommendations of the various panels proposed at European level, but also the recommendations made via the digital platform of the Conference, will be discussed by the European bodies during two concluding plenary sessions on 25-26 March and 8-9 April 2022. The aim is to be able to present political conclusions to the European citizens of the 27 Member States on 9 May 2022, which is “Europe Day”.