Treaty reform is coming, but not just yet

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

History tells us that when it comes to pushing for EU treaty reform, the European Parliament is almost always leading the way. [European Union 2022 - Source : EP]

History tells us that when it comes to pushing for EU treaty reform, the European Parliament is almost always leading the way, writes Benjamin Fox.

Benjamin Fox is EURACTIV’s Politics Editor.

Consequently, Thursday’s (9 June) resolution urging EU leaders to formally start the process of revising the EU treaties should not have come as a surprise, though a 355 to 154 vote in favour of the resolution is actually far less decisive than it sounds, representing just over half of the Parliament. Nor should the contents of their wishlist, which is nothing if not ambitious.

The wishlist does not contain any surprises: the scrapping of national vetoes over sanctions policies and emergencies, the replacement of unanimous decision-making with qualified majority voting across the board, and new EU powers covering health and cross-border health threats, the completion of the energy union, defence policy, and social and economic policies.

For good measure, MEPs also want to have the right to initiate, amend and revoke laws and have more control over the EU budget.

Meanwhile, at last week’s congress of the liberal political family, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, delegates endorsed a similar wishlist.

So what happens next?

The next EU leaders’ summit is in two weeks’ time and Clément Beaune, the French EU affairs minister has promised that the last summit hosted by his government before the rotating presidency is handed over to the Czech Republic will deal with the treaty reform question.

But while the momentum for reform is undoubtedly building, it is hard to imagine that we are going to see decisive movement towards starting an intergovernmental conference any time soon.

For the foreseeable future, the EU has interlinked crises to deal with. The war in Ukraine, the overhaul of the bloc’s energy policy and food security and the broader cost of living crisis are more than enough to occupy leaders.

In this context, the idea that the conclusions of the 23-24 June summit will include anything beyond ‘noting’ the Parliament’s demand for treaty change is rather far-fetched.

For the moment, Europe’s biggest states; Germany, France and Italy, are open to the idea of reopening the treaties – but there is a substantial blocking minority. 13 member states, most of them smaller states from northern Europe and the Baltics, “do not support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards treaty change.”

The Czech presidency is hardly likely to push the subject over the next six months, since it is of the group of sceptics. Nor is Sweden, also a member of the group of 13, which takes over the presidency in January 2023.

However, in the last thirty years of EU integration, the Parliament has been a driving force. So, too, have the big member states and the European Commission. All of them are on the treaty change side, and they usually, eventually, get what they want.

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