Germany wants to use the Conference on the Future of Europe as a starting point to develop the EU further, possibly change treaties, and abolish unanimity decision-making for EU foreign policy matters, Germany’s Minister of State for Europe and Climate Anna Lührmann told EURACTIV in an interview.
Germany has been one of the most fervent supporters of the conference and the plans for EU reform that resulted from it.
This is “because it is our vision that we cooperate even more strongly and even more deeply in Europe,” Lührmann stressed.
“During negotiations in the Council, I have always seen myself as a representative of the future conference because I always raise these points very actively there and campaign for us to get support for implementation,” the minister added.
Almost 50 proposals were put forward by the conference’s plenary, including the abandonment of the unanimity principle in EU foreign policy.
Now it would be important that “we, as the EU, deliver and that we also really initiate the institutional reform processes mentioned in the Conference on the Future of Europe,” Lührmann added.
The importance of the conference, which formally ends on Monday (9 May), was already outlined in the German coalition agreement. It states that the conference should result in a “constitutional moment” for the EU and lead to “further development towards a federal European state”.
For this reason, Lührmann is advocating that “results of the future conference should also be discussed with an open mind, including with an openness to changes in the treaties”.
“It is a central point of our European policy that we promote a dynamic in this direction. And I hope that the time will soon be ripe for this,” said Lührmann.
Abolishing unanimity decision-making
Lührmann is calling for the primary focus in the short term to be on proposals that do not require treaty change. “There are a lot of great things, for example, in the field of renewable energies or the strengthening of European defence capabilities,” she said.
The current treaties already allow abolishing the unanimity principle in EU foreign policy. They also allow for the introduction of transnational lists, which are currently being negotiated.
“One point that is extremely important to us as the federal government is that there are fewer veto options in foreign policy to make us more capable of acting. There are already options in the current treaty framework for that. And we should now also discuss together as European institutions how we can best achieve this,” said Lührmann.
With its decisive action regarding Russia’s war in Ukraine, the EU has shown the basis for negotiations to abolish the unanimity principle is now stronger than ever.
“The Russian war of aggression has created a whole new dynamic in this area because the EU has acted and reacted to it in a united and determined way as never before,” said Lührmann.
“And I think there is a growing realisation in the member states that we really have to take a more determined joint stand in this changing geopolitical context. Therefore, I think that a debate on this issue is certainly possible,” she added.
However, the EU’s capacity to act is closely linked to its envisaged enlargement, Lührmann also said.
“Indeed, the two issues belong together. And for me, it is clear that if the EU grows, we must also ask ourselves in this context what institutions we need for this,” she added.
The minister added especially concerning the EU accession perspective of the Western Balkans, we must now “make significant progress” by opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible.
“For me, it is clear that we have to stand by our promises. And there are very clear rules in the accession process. So, if reforms are made, then these countries will come one step closer to the EU,” she added.
Institutional reform must thus be initiated quickly before these countries join the EU.
“We as the EU must do our homework and set ourselves up institutionally so that we can also function well as an EU of 33 or even more,” she added.
A multi-speed Europe?
Germany is now also open to a “multi-speed Europe” – a move still deemed taboo under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as she feared increased integration of a few states could create a wedge between EU members.
A change of direction can clearly be felt under the new German government. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example, emphasised during his inaugural speech in the Bundestag in December that certain states could move forward with European integration “if not everyone is ready yet”.
Lührmann also stated that the further integration of the more willing states would be a “possibility that of course exists.”
But because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, “now is not the time to make such a fundamental decision”, said the German minister. “We are in a world of upheaval, and we have to start these debates now,” she added.
Germany’s minister of state for Europe also emphasised that Germany was already pursuing this approach in some areas – for example, in the “coalition of the willing” on migration policy launched by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
“But right now, in this current all-encompassing crisis, the focus of the federal government is to first keep everyone together and be as united as possible, especially on the big issues,” Lührmann also stressed.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]