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In 2019 French President Emmanuel Macron called for citizen-led debates on the EU’s future across the bloc, partly in response to Brexit. The EU has since launched a major conference on the future of Europe but has become bogged down in what one prominent europhile called “a mess of pottage”.
Originally the conference was meant to have one president but it now has six overseeing the event.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, these include the presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council.
The conference will also have an executive board, made up of observers from the main EU institutions, which will also have its own president.
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgium prime minister who wrote a book calling for a “United States of Europe”, event admitted the event was a “bureaucratic circus”.
Mr Verhofstadt played an important role in Britain’s EU exit process as the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator.
According to The Telegraph, there were expectations he would head the conference but this was blocked by EU member states who felt he is “too federalist”.
Andrew Duff, a former Liberal Democrat MEP and active europhile, hit out at what the conference has become.
He said: “The idea only made sense if its job was straightforward and simple.
“What we have is a mess of pottage.
“There’s no agreement within the institutions let alone between them about what the Conference is for – or its organisation, leadership, or budget.”
Prominent eurosceptics in the European Parliament have already dismissed the exercise arguing it will inevitably call for more EU powers.
The organisers insist changes to EU treaties must be an option after the conference in a move that could radically increase Brussels power.
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The last major European treaty change came in 2007 with the Lisbon Treaty, introduced after French and Dutch voters rejected a proposed EU constitution.
However, some EU members are likely to be wary of giving up more power to Brussels, with Poland and Hungary already locked in a standoff with the European Commission over their attitudes towards law and domestic political opposition.
Criticising the conference one EU diplomat commented: “With so many presidents the Future of Europe looks more like the supreme Soviet than the liberal open society it’s meant to embody.”
The EU has been seeking to boost its democratic legitimacy since British electors voted to leave the bloc in June 2016.
After a number of delays, the UK formally left the EU at the end of January 2020.
It then remained closely tied to the bloc via a Brexit transition period which only came to an end last December.
During this time Britain continued to pay into the EU budget and implement many laws made in Brussels.
The UK now trades with the EU using the terms of a new trade deal approved by Boris Johnson, restoring its position as an independent trading nation.
However, as part of the deal, Northern Ireland remains tied to the European single market resulting in some restrictions on trade with the rest of the UK.
This has infuriated unionists who claim this undermines British sovereignty and are demanding the extra checks are scrapped.
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