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Future of Europe: Citizens’ panels take the floor

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Citizens’ panels will meet over the coming months to discuss the EU’s future and make recommendations. Find out more, EU affairs.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is putting people at the centre of the discussion on how the EU should evolve to face future challenges. Citizens’ panels have an important role to play: they will discuss ideas from events across the EU and proposals submitted through the Conference platform and will make recommendations to be discussed with EU institutions and other stakeholders.

Who is taking part?

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There are four European citizens’ panels, each one including 200 citizens. Panel members have been selected randomly, but in a way that reflects the EU’s diversity. For example, there will be an equal number of men and women in each panel as well as a proportional representation of Europeans from urban and rural areas. Young people between 16 and 25 will make up one third of the members.

What will be discussed?

Each panel will deal with some of the topics on which people have been invited to propose ideas:

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  • Stronger economy, social justice and jobs/education, culture, youth, sport/digital transformation;
  • European democracy/values and rights, rule of law, security;
  • climate change, environment/health, and;
  • the EU in the world/migration.

Panel members will be able to raise additional issues. Independent experts will be available at the meetings to provide advice.

When will citizens’ panels meet?

Each of the panels will meet three times. The first sessions will take place over four weekends between 17 September and 17 October in Parliament’s premises in Strasbourg. The second sessions will take place online in November and the third sessions will be held in December and January in cities across the EU, if the health situation permits.

The schedule for the four citizens’ panels

PanelTopicsFirst sessionSecond sessionThird session
1Stronger economy, social justice and jobs /education, culture, youth, sport/digital transformation17-19 September5-7 November3-5 December (Dublin)
2European democracy/values and rights, rule of law, security24-26 September12-14 November10-12 December (Florence)
3Climate change, environment/ health1-3 October19-21 November7-9 January (Warsaw)
4The EU in the world/migration15-17 October26-28 November14-16 January (Maastricht)

What will be the outcome?

Panels will formulate recommendations, which will be discussed at the Conference Plenary that brings together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments as well as other stakeholders. Twenty representatives from each panel will take part in Conference Plenaries and will present the outcome of panels’ work.

The panels’ recommendations will feed into the final Conference report, which will be prepared in the spring of 2022 by the executive board of the Conference. The board comprises representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission - the institutions that will have to follow up on the conclusions - as well as observers from all Conference stakeholders. The report will be drawn up in full collaboration with the Conference Plenary and will have to receive its approval.

How to follow panels’ work?

Panel sessions where all members meet will be streamed online. You will be able to find more details about them on the Conference platform.

Agriculture

Agriculture: Launch of an annual EU organic day

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On 24 September the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission celebrated the launch of an annual ‘EU organic day'. The three institutions signed a joint declaration establishing from now on each 23 September as EU organic day. This follows up on the Action Plan for the development of organic production, adopted by the Commission on 25 March 2021, which announced the creation of such a day to raise awareness of organic production.

At the signing and launch ceremony, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “Today we celebrate organic production, a sustainable type of agriculture where food production is done in harmony with nature, biodiversity and animal welfare. 23 September is also autumnal equinox, when day and night are equally long, a symbol of balance between agriculture and environment that ideally suits organic production. I am glad that together with the European Parliament, the Council, and key actors of this sector we get to launch this annual EU organic day, a great opportunity to raise awareness of organic production and promote the key role it plays in the transition to sustainable food systems.”

The overall aim of the Action Plan for the development of organic production is to boost substantially the production and consumption of organic products in order to contribute to the achievement of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies' targets such as reducing the use of fertilisers, pesticides and anti-microbials. The organic sector needs the right tools to grow, as laid out in the Action Plan. Structured around three axes - boosting consumption, increasing production, and further improving the sustainability of the sector -, 23 actions are put forward to ensure a balanced growth of the sector.

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To boost consumption the Action Plan includes actions such as informing and communicating about organic production, promoting the consumption of organic products, and stimulating a greater use of organics in public canteens through public procurement. Furthermore, to increase organic production, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will remain a key tool for supporting the conversion to organic farming. It will be complemented by, for instance, information events and networking for sharing best practices and certification for groups of farmers rather than for individuals. Finally, to improve the sustainability of organic farming, the Commission will dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector.

Background

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Organic production comes with a number of important benefits: organic fields have around 30% more biodiversity, organically farmed animals enjoy a higher degree of animal welfare and take less antibiotics, organic farmers have higher incomes and are more resilient, and consumers know exactly what they are getting thanks to the EU organic logo.

More information

The action plan for the development of the organic sector

Farm to fork Strategy

Biodiversity Strategy

Organic farming at a glance

Common Agricultural Policy

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European elections

Germany’s far-left party eager to join coalition while others steer clear

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Co-leader of the Left Party Susanne Hennig-Wellsow speaks at a press conference during a convent of Germany's left party 'Die Linke' in Berlin. Copyright  Credit: AP

While Angela Merkel (pictured) avoided political campaigning for much of the election, as it became increasingly clear that her party was trailing in the polls, she went after her centre-left deputy with an old attack line, writes Lauren Chadwick

“With me as Chancellor, there would never be a coalition in which the Left is involved. And whether this is shared by Olaf Scholz or not remains to be seen,” Merkel said in late August.

Scholz also had criticism for Die Linke -- the Left Party -- but stopped short of completely rejecting the possibility of a coalition with them. He told German daily Tagesspiegel the far-left party would be required to commit to NATO and the transatlantic partnershipIt’s now been a constant attack line from the Christian Democrats in what some say is a last-ditch effort to grab moderates on the fence between Merkel’s centre-right party and the centre-left Social Democrats, who are leading in the polls.

Voters see “behind” the attack line from the CDU, said Dr Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck at the University of Mannheim, as it is “so old hat".about:blank

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Schmitt-Beck added it was a “sign of desperation” the CDU was resorting to this attack line once again as candidate Armin Laschet has failed to galvanise voters, polls show.

A possible governing coalition?

Although experts say a coalition involving the far-left Die Linke is not what Social Democratic leader Scholz wants, he is not likely to completely rule out the possibility.

That’s because if current polling is correct, the future government coalition in Germany will need to be formed with three political parties for the first time, meaning the Left Party has never been closer to receiving a possible spot in a coalition.

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The party is currently polling at around 6% nationally, making them the sixth most popular political party in the country.

Die Linke party co-leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow even told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in early September: “The window was as wide open as ever before. When if not now?” in regards to a possible coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens.

Many saw her words as demonstrating the party’s high hopes and preparations for entering government.

But while the current Left Party has become more mainstream since it was officially formed in 2007 - its direct historical ties to communism and hard-left foreign policy might forever keep it out of government.

Communist history and hard-line views

Die Linke was formed as a merger of two parties: the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a newer Labour and Social Justice party. The PDS is the direct successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the communist party that ruled in East Germany from 1946 to 1989.

“There are many people in Germany who see this legacy as a big problem," said Dr Thorsten Holzhauser, research associate at the Theodor Heuss House Foundation in Stuttgart.

"On the other hand, the party has been de-radicalising for a couple of years or even decades now. It's shifted towards a more left-wing social democratic profile in the last years, which is also something that many people have recognised."

But Die Linke is quite polarised internally with more moderate politics in East Germany and more radical voices in some West German regions.

While a younger generation of voters is more connected to the social justice issues and hot political topics such as the climate, feminism, anti-racism and migration, other parts of the party appeal more to populism and compete with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), experts say.

The party currently has one state minister-president: Bodo Ramelow in Thuringia.

But some of the party’s hard-line foreign policy views make it an unlikely choice for a governing partner.

“The party always said that it wants to get rid of NATO, and it is a party that stems from East Germany, from a very pro-Russian political culture, a very anti-Western political culture, so this is in the DNA of the party,” says Holzhauser.

Die Linke wants Germany out of NATO and no foreign deployment of Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr.

“We will not participate in a government that wages wars and permits combat missions by the Bundeswehr abroad, that promotes armament and militarisation. In the long term, we are sticking to the vision of a world without armies,” the platform reads.

Die Linke also rejects treating Russia and China as “enemies” and wants closer relations with both countries.

‘Unlikely’ to join a coalition

“There is a chance. It's not a very big chance, but there is a chance (Die Linke could join a coalition)," says Holzhauser, yet traditionally the “scare tactics by Conservatives have been very strong at mobilising against a left-wing alliance”.

Die Linke, which used to poll ahead of the Greens and Alternative for Germany (AfD) could have a problem garnering support in the future, he said, as it becomes less of a populist party and more establishment.

“While in the past, Die Linke has been quite successful as a somewhat populist force that mobilised against the West German political establishment, nowadays, the party is more and more part of the establishment,” says Holzhauser.https://www.euronews.com/embed/1660084

“For many voters, especially in East Germany, it has successfully integrated into the German party system. So this is the flip side of the coin of its own success, that it is getting more integrated and established but at the same time it loses attraction as a populist force.”

On social issues, it's more likely to have similar demands to the Greens and Social Democrats, however, including a wealth tax and higher minimum wage. They are platform ideas that haven't come to fruition in the current SPD/CDU coalition.

But whether that means they will enter government remains to be seen, despite the perceived high hopes of the party's leaders.

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European elections

German conservatives raise spectre of far-left rule ahead of election

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Gregor Gysi of the left wing party Die Linke speaks during an election campaign rally in Munich, Germany, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo
Germany's co-leader of the left wing party Die Linke Janine Wissler, top candidate for the September general election, campaigns in Munich, Germany, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

A shadow is looming over Germany's election: the spectre of the far-left Linke party, heir to the communists who once ruled East Germany, coming in from the political wilderness, write Paul Carrel and Thomas Escritt.

At least, that is what Angela Merkel's conservatives want voters to think. Behind in polls just days before Sunday's (26 September) vote, her would-be successor is warning that Social Democrats, if victorious, would let the far-left into power. Read more.

"You have to have a clear position on the extremists," conservative candidate Armin Laschet told his Social Democratic rival Olaf Scholz during a televised debate earlier this month. "I don't understand why it's so hard for you to say 'I won't enter a coalition with this party'."

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For the conservatives, the Linke are just as unpalatable as the far-right Alternative for Germany, whom all major parties have pledged to keep out of government. Read more.

Scholz has made it clear that the Greens are his preferred partners, but the conservatives say he will need a third party to form a coalition government. And they say the Social Democrats are closer to the Linke on social policies than to the pro-business Free Democrats - the conservatives' preferred dance partner.

Few expect this to happen - the Linke are on just 6% in polls, half the liberals' 11%, which probably would not be enough to give Scholz the required parliamentary majority.

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But for some investors, it is a risk that should not be overlooked.

"Inclusion of the Linke in a governing coalition would, in our minds, represent the single biggest wild card by far for financial markets from the German elections," said Sassan Ghahramani, chief executive of U.S.-based SGH Macro Advisors, which advises hedge funds.

Linke policies such as a rent cap and property taxes for millionaires would be enough to spook many in Germany's business class.

Most assume that a victorious Scholz - a strait-laced finance minister and a former mayor of Hamburg - would include the Free Democrats as a moderating influence in his coalition.

Both SPD and Greens have also ruled out working with any party refusing to commit to the NATO military alliance or Germany's European Union membership, both of which the Linke has called into question.

READY FOR GOVERNMENT?

Undeterred, the leftists are pitching themselves as ready for government responsibility three decades after East Germany vanished from the map.

"We're already in NATO," party co-leader Dietmar Bartsch told a recent news conference, dodging questions over whether its foreign policy views would keep it from entering government.

Bartsch, 63, whose political career started when he joined East Germany's Socialist Unity Party in 1977, leads the Linke alongside Janine Wissler, 40, a westerner who hails from a town just outside Germany's financial capital Frankfurt.

If foreign policy is an obstacle, the party prefers to talk economics. Here it is not far from the Social Democrats or Greens and Bartsch says once in government the party would make sure its partners delivered on campaign promises, such as the SPD's proposed 12 euro hourly minimum wage.

The party has outgrown its East German base, establishing strongholds in poorer, post-industrial cities in western Germany.

It heads the government in the eastern state of Thuringia, and is the junior partner with the SPD and Greens in Berlin's city government.

Analysts say that, as a centrist, Scholz would be more comfortable with the Free Democrats, but will not rule out the Linke to keep leverage over the liberals, keen to play kingmakers in coalition talks.

The Social Democrats' lead in the polls also suggests the left's communist roots carry less weight with voters than in the past. Greens leader Annalena Baerbock said it was just wrong to say they were just as bad as the far-right because the latter did not respect Germany's democratic norms.

"I consider this equation of the AfD with the Left to be extremely dangerous, especially because it absolutely trivialises the fact that the AfD is not aligned with the constitution," Baerbock said in a television debate this month.

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