Parliament must push for treaty reform – POLITICO


Andrew Duff is a former Member of the European Parliament. His latest book, “Constitutional Change in the European Union”, has just been published by Palgrave Pivot.

The European Union is in a constitutional mess – and that makes everything worse.

The Lisbon Treaty, which is the EU’s constitutional foundation, requires the bloc’s 27 members to agree unanimously on issues related to taxation, revenue, rule of law, energy supply, sanctions, citizenship, foreign and security policy, elections, reform, enlargement and future treaty changes. And it is currently preventing the Union from doing many of the important things it needs to do.

It prevents the European Commission from conducting a common budgetary policy and the European Central Bank from becoming the Union’s lender of last resort. There are several other inhibitions on governance, the removal of which – through treaty reform – would enhance the bloc’s ability to act as a democratic federal government, above the level of the hapless nation states of Europe. . Despite ongoing complications, there are several ways to move forward.

Having experienced the frustration of trying to run the EU in this way, particularly in times of financial or security crisis, most of the bloc’s leaders admit this need. Indeed, the authors of the Lisbon Treaty already included a bridge, or bridging clause (Article 48(7) TEU), under which decision-making within the Council can switch from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV). As the bridge itself can only be invoked with unanimous agreement, but it has never been used.

Over the past decade, the absurdity of this constitutional stalemate – wanting federal ends by confederal means – has become starkly evident.

No one has been more frustrated by this than French President Emmanuel Macron. And more recently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also embraced the idea of ​​change, positioning himself as a reformer. But as lucid as they are on the need for reform, neither Paris nor Berlin seem to know how to go about it.

Parliament’s federalist MEPs, led by Guy Verhofstadt, have been campaigning for years to return to the experience of a Convention – made up of the Commission, the Council, MEPs and national MPs – to revise the EU Treaties ( article 48, paragraph 3). But the Council, apparently still traumatized by Lisbon, resisted. And although the conference on the future of Europe took place, assessing the expectations of a random sample of European citizens, it was used by the Council to delay reform, leaving the Commission of President Ursula von der Leyen meaningless.

Reacting to the failure of this conference, in June Parliament finally stepped out of the realm of abstraction by voting on a concrete proposal aimed at converting the decision-making process of the bridge from unanimity to qualified majority voting.

This is a wise move, as it simply eases the way for future supermajority advances, without requiring immediate demands.

It also marks Parliament’s first use of its constitutive power to trigger Treaty change (Article 48(2)), and is a historic step that has been curiously under-reported by the press and misunderstood even by MEPs. .

Interestingly, according to the Treaty, the Presidency of the Council should have automatically submitted this proposal to the European Council and informed the national parliaments. For some reason, the French presidency – despite Macron’s rhetoric – rejected this demand.

Parliament President Roberta Metsola of the conservative European People’s Party group also failed to make her point when addressing the Council in June. However, the following week, the group leaders forced her to write formally to the Council and the European Council, affirming the will of the Parliament. However, at this stage, the presidency of the Council had been assumed by the Czech Republic, invariably eurosceptic.

The government in Prague is a wobbly coalition with little expertise in European politics, an insider told me that “the highest international qualification for Czech ministers is Erasmus”. And at an informal meeting of ministers in July, the Czechs issued a questionnaire, seeking opinions on where bridge clause could be applied. No ploy could be surer of exposing deep divisions within the Council, and it has enabled Czech European Affairs Minister Mikuláš Bek to quickly conclude that no progress can be made on extending majority voting qualified.

Bek is now proposing another informal political discussion in the General Affairs Council before a formal vote in November, on whether to forward Parliament’s proposals to the European Council – a procedure which is in breach of the Treaty.

If it is serious about reform, Parliament should not back down and should make its case more forcefully. It could initiate a formal procedure and refer the Council to the Court of Justice of the EU for failure to act (article 265 TFEU).

Once finally seized of the file, the Council will then have to decide by a simple majority whether it is appropriate to examine the proposed amendment, and it seems that the proposed modification of the bridge will receive sufficient support. That being the case, a Convention will then be convened — at the insistence of Parliament.

The virtue of a Convention is that it brings everyone concerned together in one place at the same time to debate in public, thus increasing the likelihood of uncovering any illiberal deceit.

If the European Council cannot prepare for a Convention, it should nevertheless set up an independent reflection group made up of wise men to prepare options for reforming the Treaty. Other pressing, now neglected issues – such as the procedure for choosing von der Leyen’s successor in 2024, and Parliament’s languishing proposals for transnational electoral rolls – can be added to this agenda.

Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who knows a thing or two, might even be willing to chair such a think tank of experts – and, indeed, chair the Convention that will follow.

Be that as it may, treaty reform is urgently needed. And it is time for Parliament to make its case.


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