Treaties: The European Parliament demands the end of the veto in the EU to circumvent countries like Hungary or Poland | International
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The European Union is warming up for an in-depth reform of its operating rules and the European Parliament has decided to take the lead by activating, for the first time in its history, the right to request a convention to reform the Treaties. The final decision corresponds to the European Council, which meets on June 23 and 24 in Brussels, but the political pressure to undertake changes is gaining weight. With a view to that European summit at the end of the month, Parliament has already approved a resolution this Thursday in which, in addition to requesting the convention, it demands the end of the national veto in decisions such as sanctions against Russia, paralyzed for weeks by Hungary, or when emergencies such as the war in Ukraine, a pandemic or an economic crisis occur.
The European Parliament thus becomes the first institution to establish a position on the reforms derived from the recent Conference on the future of Europe, a citizen consultation forum that presented its conclusions last May and which is interpreted as the prelude to a remodeling of the club that could even lead to a new reform of the Treaties. The European Parliament hopes that the changes will allow it to continue gaining powers, extended one after another in the successive reforms of the Treaties. Among the objectives, reduce the blocking capacity of the capitals and, incidentally, gain ground in the distribution of institutional power within the community club, obtaining a right of legislative initiative that is now very limited.
“The war in Ukraine began on February 24 and the United States was able to approve on March 8 an executive order for the embargo of Russian oil, coal and gas; in Europe we have taken three months to reach the same conclusion”, recalled Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, one of the promoters of the resolution. “Sanctions are a good example of something that does not work, but we must not restrict the debate on the suppression of unanimity to that, we must be more ambitious,” the popular MEP Paulo Rangel has asked. And the socialist Doménec-Ruiz Devesa has pointed out that “this is no longer the world of the Lisbon Treaty [vigente desde diciembre de 2009]” and has defended the need to “update the constitutional framework, improving decision-making”.
But the budding institutional battle promises to be very tough because the advances of the Union increasingly touch essential parts of national sovereignty, such as defense, energy or foreign policy. And the suppression of unanimity scares many countries, in particular, the least populated ones because they fear that the so-called big ones will overwhelm them by imposing their interests.
The parliamentary debate itself has reflected the division, with several MEPs, especially from Eastern countries, accusing supporters of reform of wanting to turn the EU into a kind of Soviet Union. The subsequent vote has also shown how sensitive the coming reform process is.
The resolution has been approved comfortably, with 355 votes in favor from the main political groups (popular, socialists, liberals, greens and unitary left). But there have been 155 against, most of them from ultra-conservative groups (including Vox) and eurosceptics. But up to 40 MEPs from the main groups have also been against the reforms. And almost another fifty of those same groups have chosen to abstain.
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France, which holds the six-month presidency of the EU, has been open to putting possible reforms on the agenda of the EU council of ministers, in advance of the likely debate at the European summit on June 23-24. The appointment of the presidents of Government could launch the convention. But the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Claude Beaume, has been in favor in Parliament “of maintaining parallel tracks”, with a possible option for the reform of the Treaties, but also introducing changes through legislative projects on the basis of the current ones.
The text approved by parliamentarians advocates convening a convention with representatives of the 27 EU countries, the Commission and Parliament to amend the Treaties and provide the EU with powers such as health or the joint purchase of weapons, policies traditionally reserved to the national authorities, but which have gained a European dimension with covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine, respectively.
The resolution also defends the expansion of the matters approved by a qualified majority in the Council (where the 27 governments sit), eliminating a veto right that is sometimes used for spurious purposes and as a form of pressure to obtain concessions in areas without any link to the blocked decision.
Hungary and Poland have been the two countries that have distinguished themselves the most in recent years in invoking the veto, to the point that they threatened to blow up the budget agreement that in 2020 created the multi-million dollar pandemic recovery fund. Both countries frequently stop any project that includes references to gender equality or respect for minorities.
The Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán also obstructs, almost systematically, the positions of the EU on international affairs. And Budapest delayed for several weeks the approval of the sixth round of sanctions against Russia until it achieved the right not to support the community embargo on Russian oil and removed from the EU blacklist the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who was wanted sanction for his continuous harangues in favor of the armed attack against Ukraine.
Parliament considers that the EU cannot continue to advance at the pace of the most reluctant or resign itself to acting on the international scene without a single, clear and powerful voice. The resolution considers it evident, “especially after the recent crises, that the Treaties must be amended urgently in order to guarantee that the Union has the powers to act more effectively in future crises”. Specifically, the approved text states that it is essential to “strengthen the Union’s capacity for action by reforming voting procedures”. And it proposes suppressing unanimity “in relevant areas, such as sanctions and the so-called passerelle clauses, and in case of emergency.”
The so-called footbridge is the clause of the Treaty that allows the suppression of the right of veto, but its activation requires unanimity, so it is practically impossible to apply it to areas such as taxation or budgets. Its activation by qualified majority, as Parliament proposes, would accelerate the disappearance of unanimity.
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