RELAY Kick-off Conference Wrap up

On the 4th of December 2020, Prof Christine Neuhold –  Dean of Maastricht University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Chair of the Maastricht University Campus Brussels Board – kicked off the launching conference of the RELAY project with a thought-provoking speech about the future of the European Union and the aims of the RELAY project. 
RELAY a Jean Monnet project that aims at discussing the European Commission’s political guidelines and work programme with a diverse series of stakeholders. Stakeholders can provide input through a series of conferences, workshops, and working papers. At the end of the project, the results of these discussions will be integrated into a policy brief with recommendations.  For more information, please visit the RELAY website.

The kick-off conference, which focused on the political priorities of the European Commission – such as the European Green Deal, Digital Innovation, and the strengthening of European Democracy – involved a broad array of stakeholders to discuss where ‘Europe’ should go next. After almost seven hours of engaging discussions and debates, some answers and many questions emerged about this ambitious endeavour.

Here are some of highlights from the three panels of the day:

The first panel, chaired by Dr Christine Neuhold, Professor of EU Democratic Governance, discussed the challenges of making the EU more democratic and socially fair. A key focus of the discussion was the much-anticipated Conference on the Future of Europe. While the Conference itself has (still) not been launched, our speakers presented their ideas on what the conference should cover. Ranging from creative solutions to increase the involvement of national parliaments in the work of the European Union, to the architecture and mission of the conference, the state of play of EU participatory democracy, and the ethics and integrity of European governance.


“The problem we face is not necessarily a problem of democratic deficit, but is a problem of democratic intelligibility. We don't understand how decisions are taken in Brussels and how the national political discourse is shaping the process”

Alberto Alemanno, Founder and Director, The Good Lobby


The second panel of the day focused on the global role of the EU, and examined the promotion of ‘EU values’ and ‘global leadership’. The discussion was chaired by Dr Giselle Bosse, Associate Professor and Jean Monnet Chair of EU External Relations at Maastricht University. The panel started with one main headline, “A stronger Europe in the world”. What does this mean against the background of a ‘geopolitical’ European Commission? The discussion started with some critical remarks on the normative dimension of the EU’s approach to the issue of migration and asylum, focusing on the shortcomings and opportunities of the Union’s approach towards these issues. Moving on, the panel covered the topic of the rule of law from within the Union and its perceived undermining by EU Member States. How can the EU promote its values externally when they are weakened internally?


“Migration is one of many, many other debates going on: the Calais issue, people blocked in the Balkans. And these are very human, very crucial and important problems … that should be at the core of the values and norms that the EU were supposed to defend.”

Marie WalterFranke, Fellow, Karlspreis Academy and Affiliate Policy Fellow, Jacques Delors Centre


The third and final panel of the day, under the double topic of how to achieve a ‘green’ and ‘digital’ Europe, was chaired by Dr Darian Meacham, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Maastricht University and Principal Investigator at the Brightlands Institute for Smart Society (BISS). Here, the discussion was centred around the forthcoming European Green Deal, meant to create a sustainable and green Europe that is able to tackle the threats of the climate emergency. These two policy priorities – sustainability and digitalisation – not only confront two of the most pressing global challenges we face today, but they are also deeply intertwined. This begs the question: How should a policy response to these issues look like? A key focus of this debate was the compromise between economic growth and sustainable development. Although no definitive conclusion was reached, it seems that a more holistic approach is necessary when discussing these issues.


“We might say that biodiversity, for instance, is important and plant forests in Europe, but if through our production and consumption patterns we continue to deforest important areas on the other side of the planet. Then clearly from a sustainability perspective and from a holistic perspective, we would be doing something wrong.”

Ceren Pekdemir, Assistant Professor, Maastricht Sustainability Institute


We encourage you to participate in the RELAY project! You can already register for the first thematic workshop in the framework of the RELAY Project. This first workshop, which will take place on 25 January 2021, will explore the impact of the Green Deal on nature and animals. You can find more information here.

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