Elmar Brok: ‘The idea that the EU will not advance any further is false’

Elmar Brok [EPP Group/Flickr]

EU treaty changes are laborious and come with a great deal of uncertainty. As a result, the European Parliament is assessing an own-initiative report that intends to assess what reforms of the functioning of the EU are possible without treaty changes. EURACTIV Germany reports.

On 20 January, European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs rapporteurs Elmar Brok (EPP-CDU) and Mercedes Bresso (S&D-Partito Democratico) submitted their draft report. The final text is expected to be adopted by the Parliament before the summer break.

German MEP Elmar Brok is chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and a member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

Brok spoke with euractiv.de.

The Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee is currently assessing your report, which bears the lovely title “Improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty”. Is it really possible that many of the EU’s existing problems with the Lisbon Treaty could be addressed? Or are the proposals laid down in your report just the first steps towards greater reform?

We are preparing another report, authored by Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE), to do with treaty changes and where they are necessary. But, we first wanted to demonstrate the fact that we need quick solutions and that there is still a lot of wiggle-room left when it comes to the Lisbon Treaty, as well as dispelling the mind-set that things can’t get done because we can’t change the treaty. That is why we have collated a number of examples of what is actually possible under the current treaty: from majority voting to new foreign and security policy, as well as the issue of EU headquarters and the possibility of a Commission vice-president also serving as president of the Eurogroup, among other matters.

Whether any of these are actually pursued or not is neither here nor there, we have shown that the opportunity is there, though.

Several of your report’s proposals call for the ‘passerelle clause’ to be activated, so that national veto rights can be circumvented and qualified majority votes counted instead. Is it not too optimistic to expect national governments to agree to this?

National governments routinely say that nothing can be done because the treaty cannot be changed. We have provided means by which qualified majority can be used instead, through the use of the passerelle clause, included in the treaty itself. An example: Since ‘LuxLeaks’, we have had a number of discussions about performing certain tax adjustments, so that we don’t see a repeat of it.  These tax adjustments are only currently possible through unanimity that, quite simply, is not going to happen. However, if qualified majority decisions were permissible in certain policy areas such as this, then we would be able to come to a consensus.

I believe that a number of national governments are ready to embrace this. It, of course, depends on the policy area, but in the end it will come down to persuasion. But, in this way, no one would be able to hide behind the excuse that nothing gets done because we need treaty changes, which are only possible through agreement between 28 parliaments. Our report clearly shows that things will be possible, if the will is there. The idea that the EU will not advance any further is false.

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If the European Council does not follow through with the recommendations laid down in your report, then what would be the Parliament’s course of action?

First, we want to have a discussion and clarify what is possible. We can, of course, connect this with our relevant examples, such as the LuxLeaks investigation committee. I would be interested in seeing what member states would be opposed to ending tax avoidance. We have the tools to meet this challenge, if we want to. We would be in a strong position wherein we could confront relevant parties and ask whether they want to act or not.


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