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Citizens to get a say on how EU evolves after Brexit shock

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Citizens of the European Union will have a say on how the bloc should change to meet their needs under a proposal of the executive European Commission as it seeks to digest the lessons of Brexit.

Encouraged by a high turnout in last May’s European Parliament elections, the Commission proposes that EU institutions and officials engage in discussions with the bloc’s roughly half a billion citizens over the next two years on what kind of EU they want.

The project, called the Conference on the Future of Europe, aims to counter the kind of alienation and distrust of Brussels that helped fuel Britain’s decision in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU after more than four decades of membership.

“The overarching aim of the Conference on the Future of Europe is to encourage European citizens and make it easier for them to get involved in democracy beyond the European elections,” the Commission said.

The final concept, structure, scope and timing of the project are still to be agreed between the European Parliament, national governments and the Commission, but the initial idea is to gather citizens’ feedback and views through conferences, panels and debates as well as a multilingual website.

The EU executive offered to pull together the feedback in a quarterly report.

The Commission, governments and the parliament would pledge to abide by the results in policy-making, and even change EU treaties if such was the conclusion of the process.

“The Commission is convinced that a stronger partnership between European policy-makers and Europe’s citizens will serve to amplify their voices and guide European policy-making in the future,” the Commission said.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by John Chalmers and Gareth Jones