The coronavirus crisis has once again shown that reforms of “the basic structure” of the EU are necessary, including abolishing unanimity in the European Council, to strengthen the EU’s ability to act, German MEP Damian Boeselager (Volt) told EURACTIV Germany in an interview.
Damian Boeselager is a co-founder and vice president of Volt Europe. Since May 2019, he has been a member of the European Parliament and is a part of the Greens/European Free Alliance.
In recent weeks, the European Commission has been accused of not reacting quickly enough to the crisis. To what extent has the coronavirus revealed shortcomings in the European system?
In the crisis, a lot has fallen back upon intergovernmentalism. This can now also be seen in the instruments utilised so far, for example the ESM credit lines or the SURE programme [for supporting temporarily unemployed]. These are not subject to adequate parliamentary control, neither at the EU level nor in the member states.
More far-reaching solutions conceived at a European level are constantly being held up in the Council, where each country usually has a right of veto on the important issues. This was evident from the debate on corona bonds and again in the case of the recovery fund.
What reforms should be made to counteract this?
If the European Commission were given real executive power, it could make decisions without the effects being interrupted at every national border. Parliament would then, of course, also have to be able to hold the Commission to account. In economic policy, for example, an EU finance minister elected by the Parliament could combine the posts of head of the ESM, the Eurogroup and the post of economic commissioner.
A further necessity is a significant increase in the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) to be able to invest where necessary throughout Europe. I am very concerned that the expenditure on combating COVID-19 will massively restrict many governments’ financial room to manoeuvre. Throughout Europe, however, we now need investments and reforms that will above all strengthen social resilience and resistance to crises. This can only be done with a strong common budget. The Franco-German initiative could be a step forward here.
Currently, there is often talk of a push for modernisation, caused by the increasing digitalisation in all areas of life. What dangers does this pose for civil rights?
Investment in digitisation is essential, especially for crisis resilience. We have seen the value of digital approval processes or legal proceedings during the ‘lockdown.’ Investments in the ‘modern’ part of the EU budget must be massively increased, also in view of international competition. In the digital sector in particular, it is problematic that the current positive development is primarily benefiting companies who are not located in Europe and often pay only minimal taxes here.
When we talk about digital privacy rights, we have already created a good basis with the GDPR. One important question, however, is whether the legislation is already up-to-date today so that violations of data protection can be tracked and traced everywhere.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of ‘EU bashing.’ Is the EU really doing as little as is often suggested?
I think the problem is that the member states cannot agree on solutions. It is not the different interests that are the biggest problem here, but the basic structure of the system, which does not manage to balance interests. It would be much more elegant to consider where there is a need for truly European coordination. I am thinking here of the asylum system and the common economic policy, among other things.
It should be possible for citizens to elect the Commission or a government at European level and also to be voted out again if they are not satisfied with its policies. Instead, people are annoyed with the EU. They do not know that it is actually the governments of individual member states that are holding up a particular project without any democratic means of influencing that government. This lack of clarity and complexity creates mistrust.
The abolition of the unanimity principle in the Council would be a big step towards a solution. In general, I believe that we should use the Conference on the Future of Europe to put these issues on the table together.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]