Interview with Roger Casale for Financieele Dagblad

On 7 January, Roger Casale was interviewed by Mathijs Schiffers​ for the leading Dutch financial paper, Det Financieele Dagblad in preparation for a feature article on the Conference on the Future of Europe.

We are unable to reproduce the article which used parts of the interview in the feature as the article is behind a paywall.

However we are pleased to publish here the full interview with Roger Casale:

1.Why is it important to have this Conference on the Future of Europe?
Europe is not just a union of states and markets, it is also a union of citizens.

The pandemic has reminded us how important are the citizens. The selfless acts of those on the frontline of fighting COVID have saved Europe in the face of the most destructive crisis we have faced since the second world war. 

These voices deserve to be heard in the conversation about what happens next in Europe.

As we build resilience to future pandemics and think about the lessons learned from the crisis we need to listen more attentively to the experience and the voices of citizens.

As well as building resilience we need to secure the sustainability of the European model. That is about building a green as well as a healthy Europe. Again citizens are the key.

Much of the innovative work that is going on in Europe today to counter climate change is being demanded by citizens, proposed by citizens and implemented by citizens, often at the local level.

Thirdly, we need the consent of citizens if we are to bring about the profound transformative change that is needed in Europe to meet present and future challenges.

Citizens have found their voice.

They found it in the Brexit debate which led to the UK leaving the European Union. They found it in France with the Yellow Vests protests. 

They have also found it globally such as with the Black Lives Matter movement or the democracy movement in Belarus and of course with Fridays for Future and the environmental movement in general.
The power and the voice of citizens can be a force of good or it can lead to destructive outcomes.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is an opportunity at a critical time for Europe to make sure that the voice of citizens is channeled for good.

That is about crowd-sourcing new ideas, generating consensus, and making sure that new policies can be implemented successfully.

Citizens need to take responsibility for what happens next in Europe -  the Conference on the Future of Europe opens the door and allows citizens to be part of the conversation.
This matters because it will improve outcomes, make policy initiatives easier to implement and strengthen the resilience and sustainability of Europe.


2. What do you think of the current impasse around the question who should chair the Conference?
It is frustrating that what was billed as a “bottom-up” conference has been held up for so long as a result of in-fighting about how should run it from the top.

I would go further – this impasse is undermining the legitimacy of the conference even before it starts.

The situation is recoverable in my view but for that three things need to happen next:
*   Start the conference as soon as possible

The lockdown gives so many opportunities to consult with citizens online in ways that can be supplemented with face2face meetings once the restrictions ease.

The methodologies developed by Europe’s People’s Forum and our 27 national partner organisations including the Danish Board of Technology allows policy recommendations to be developed in detail by citizens before they themselves make their choices about what the priorities should be.

The preliminary phases of this process could already by up and running and it is clear that the Commission and Parliament are aware of the technical capabilities now available and committed to using such methodologies.
*   Commit to a permanent mechanism for citizens participation: 

The conference was supposed to start under the German Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2020 and end under the French Presidency in the first half of 2022.

This would make it part of Angela Merkel’s legacy and allow it to be completed in time for the French presidential elections in 2022.

As the conference has been delayed, it can no longer run for two years if it has to end in the first half of 2022. So the legacy should be thought through again. 

There has already been a vision - since the planning phase -  that the conference should lead to the creation of a permanent mechanism for citizens participation.

The EU needs to spell out its commitment to such a mechanism very clearly  to counter the impression that the conference is not taken seriously by member state governments.
* Harness the energy, experience and legitimacy of civil society organisations both inside the formal conference and without

There has been much hesitation about involving organised civil society in the conference, partly stemming from concerns about the representativeness of large civil society platforms.

These platforms are well aware of their limitations but nevertheless have a huge contribution to make to the success of the conference and should have a seat at the table.

Outside the formal conference, a number of initiatives have already started work and are showing that the conversation about the future of Europe can be made to work from below.

An example is Europe Future Fringe, a pan-European festival of democracy modeled on the Edinburgh Fringe.

Another is Citizens Take Over Europe, an alliance of civil society campaigns working on a citizen-led models of participatory democracy.
3.What should the Conference be about? 

This questions represents the biggest challenge for the conference and is a reminder of how important it is to engage citizens from the outset.

Again, this time during the pandemic could and should have been used to engage with citizens about this issue.

 Events have overtaken the Conference – the issue that everybody in Europe, and indeed throughout the world, is talking about right now is health. 

The Conference should certainly focus on health – on how Europe can do better in terms of health outcomes, what more we can do together in Europe to strengthen preparedness in the face of pandemics, and also on what we as individual citizens and residents need to do to protect our health and the health of others.

Personally, I would also like to see a focus on Universal Basic Income which has become much more popular as an idea during the pandemic and would require a strong public consensus before it could be implemented. There is also a need to focus on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Europe. 

The issues to do with transnational lists, the Spitzenkandidaten process and treaty change are important, too.

Changes in these areas may be required to deliver the kinds of outcomes with regard for example to health policy that citizens want to see.



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