The Venezuelan crisis is the latest example of how the unanimity rule continues to hamper European leadership on issues like foreign affairs and taxation. Is it time to smash national vetoes to make Europe greater… again?
On Monday, Pedro Sánchez became the first European prime minister in a long list of EU leaders to recognise Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela in order to call for free elections.
Although a majority of member states followed the Spanish example, the EU could not come to a unified position because Italy blocked it during an informal meeting of foreign affairs ministers last week.
As a result, the EU missed the opportunity to play a bigger role in one of the most important political transitions in recent years and act as a counterbalance to other interests.
As European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said, “some countries are only interested in oil, we care about the people and the suffering of the Venezuelan population”.
It shows how national vetoes continue to limit the EU’s clout on the world stage.
But unanimity has also become an even bigger impediment on issues closer to citizens’ hearts including fairer taxation.
Proposals to levy the financial sector, to tax large digital companies or to introduce a common consolidated corporate tax base are blocked in the Council.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed to scrap unanimity on issues including taxation and foreign affairs.
EU tax boss Pierre Moscovici has argued that qualified majority has already been introduced on issues even more sensitive like police cooperation.
But it does seem unlikely that Juncker’s proposal will ever happen because of the deeply entrenched national interests. A unanimous vote would be needed to scrap unanimous voting. How very EU.
Just like Venezuela, the European stalemate on tax issues is due to a very small group of countries that are hampering the bloc’s international influence, now that key debates such as the introduction of a digital levy are being discussed at the global level.
For the most pro-European governments, the Union should not stop there. Sánchez told the Parliament’s plenary that the unanimity principle should also be erased when it comes to the EU’s long-term budget (MFF) and rule of law procedures meant to sanction countries in breach of European values.
Poland and Hungary are covering each other’s backs on the protracted Article 7 procedure, killing any chance of sanctioning these countries.
Meanwhile, the MFF talks risk becoming a Christmas tree on which every capital will hang their baubles before they give their stamp of approval at the eleventh hour.
Forging an even closer union may be teetering, but the EU is still a community of principles and values. Removing national vetoes will not only help to make Europe greater again, but would benefit those very national interests some capitals claim to protect.
Or do they think their voices are better reflected by the stance of the US or China in today’s world?
By Alexandra Brzozowski
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