The Brief, powered by ESA – Europe’s next Pandora’s Box

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

The-Brief-Article-template-please-duplicate-9 [European Council]

Deep divisions have long been threatening to turn the EU’s foreign policy into a toothless tiger. Nevertheless, abolishing the principle of unanimity is not necessarily the solution.

With 27 players in one room, of course there are divisions, stemming from different analyses of the problem, conflicting national interests or different external influences.

But the longer there is disagreement, the more the EU’s “credibility is at stake”, as some Brussels diplomats kept religiously repeating over the past few weeks, marked by indecision or lack of unity in three foreign policy challenges: Belarus, Turkey and Russia.

It is no coincidence that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen once again called for establishing qualified majority voting in EU foreign policy, this time especially in sanction matters.

“Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives?” von der Leyen asked. “When member states say Europe is too slow, I say to them ‘be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting.”

Under QMV, a vote would need 55% of member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population to pass in the Council. This would allow the EU to act without the increasingly onerous process of securing unanimity among the EU27.

To most foreign policy pundits, it is a long-overdue step.

If the EU wants to be taken seriously, it needs to act faster than it did in the past few years, and much more quickly than it currently does. The crisis and emergencies since the start of von der Leyen’s mandate have particularly proved that.

QMV could indeed increase the EU’s efficiency by ensuring that a single state or a small group cannot block decisions, allowing the bloc to respond to acute external challenges.

But even so, qualified majority voting could actually risk creating more animosities than there already are. Take the following example:

Cyprus blocked the proposed EU sanctions against Belarus on Monday (21 September), citing the bloc’s inaction over Turkish aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Some painted Nicosia’s veto as ‘hostage taking’, a not-so-rare case of a blackmail attempt in EU decision-making.

For others, it was a desperate act by a small country to make fellow member states care about a threat that does not look too existential to most other members.

To be honest, if it were Germany or France asking for support, we would have probably moved forward with sanctions more quickly.

Which is why for small or less powerful member states, an extension of QMV to foreign policy raises fears that the bigger EU players will always be able to overrule them and ignore their problems.

The Commission seems keen to extend QMV to three foreign policy areas – sanctions, human rights promotion and launching civilian missions – with sanctions in pole position to become testing ground.

Love it or hate it, this is how Europe’s founding fathers set the rules.

Whether they will change in the future, as so many other crucial things in Brussels, is up to – oh, irony – the member states.


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The Roundup

The European Commission will have the last say through legislative acts when it comes to the enforcement of the EU’s new migration pact due to be presented this Wednesday (22 September), sources have told EURACTIV.

China accepts well-intended criticism coming from the EU, but it does not accept malicious attacks and will not allow anyone to meddle in its internal affairs, the country’s ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET).

Talks on a new EU-Africa partnership have been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, conceded, as a key summit of the two sides has been postponed until 2021.

With domestic violence and health issues having affected French women more than men during the COVID-19 health crisis, the economic consequences of the pandemic have also impacted the country’s employment sector and have widened the gender inequality gap.

MEPs on the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee have questioned EU plans to establish a bloc-wide facial recognition database for use by police authorities, citing the potential abuse of data as well as the likelihood of false positives.

The European Commission made a fresh bid to update the EU’s ageing air traffic management system, pinning its hopes of a long-overdue agreement on COVID-19’s impact on aviation and Brexit.

The Formula-E racing championship announced that it has cut and offset enough greenhouse gas emissions to declare carbon-neutrality, becoming the first motorsport formula to achieve the feat.

Look out for…
  • European Commission to announce proposal for a new EU policy on asylum and migration
  • Election of committee chairs and vice-chairs for the European Parliament’s Special Committees on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the EU, on artificial intelligence and the digital transformation, the Special Committee on beating cancer, the Subcommittee on taxation and the Committee of inquiry on animal transport 
Views are the author’s

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