The Brief – Treaty change

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

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA/JACEK TURCZYK POLAND OUT]

The public remarks made by a group of EU leaders, including Ursula von der Leyen, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, hinting at “the need to reform” the bloc have suddenly given life to the idea of a new EU treaty that would have been very unlikely just a few months ago.

The war in Ukraine and its implications for EU defence and security policy, and Ukrainian integration, have focused minds. To paraphrase Lord Tennyson, ‘in spring an EU leader’s fancy turns to thoughts of treaty change’.

But observers of EU integration will know that when momentum for treaty change begins, it can quickly become irresistible.

In one sense, we are due. It has been more than a decade since the Lisbon Treaty, which salvaged the substance of the failed Constitutional Treaty. In any case, a good crisis should never be wasted.

But the new momentum does not mean that we should expect an intergovernmental conference and a new treaty any time soon. For one thing, the joint position opposing ‘premature’ attempts to open up the treaties, signed by twelve national governments, is going to be very tough to overcome.

Sweden and Finland are about to join NATO, and may well, understandably, see EU reform as an unwanted distraction. The idea that all states will agree to scrap national vetoes on foreign, security and defence policy looks extremely unlikely.

A number of EU states have neutrality on defence enshrined in their national constitutions that would need to be rewritten. Besides, treaty change, as we know, is an uncertain process that takes years from inception to ratification, involving potential referendums.

And as the Constitutional Treaty experience showed, it can end in collapse and reputational damage to the EU. 

“While we are not ruling out any options at this stage, we do not support rash and hasty attempts to launch a process that would lead to treaty changes,” said a joint letter signed by thirteen countries, most of them from Scandinavia, central and eastern Europe.

“We already have a Europe that works. We do not need to rush into institutional reforms to deliver results,” the letter added.

This is a pretty substantial roadblock.

It would be different if just a couple of countries were taking this stance. More plausible is that the states demanding more nimble EU action use the provisions in the existing treaties that allow groups of states to move forward using ‘enhanced cooperation’.

Schengen and the European Public Prosecutor are successful examples of this.

As for defence cooperation, meanwhile, the European Defence Initiative, on which the Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence is based, is almost two decades old. An intergovernmental treaty on defence and foreign policy among willing states would be easier to broker than attempting to convert the unwilling.

By definition, a political union of 27 states is inevitably going to need its rulebook regularly reformed. That’s all good, but treaty reform is not an effective crisis management tool. 

The Roundup

The EU should open its doors to Ukraine, paving the way for immediate access to trade, programs, funding, transport, movement, and more, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

In Estonia, Finland and Sweden’s looming NATO accession is seen as a spectacular flop for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and an opportunity to close gaps in Baltic Sea security.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was not possible for NATO-member Turkey to support plans by Sweden and Finland to join the pact, saying the Nordic countries were “home to many terrorist organisations”.

Vladimir Putin’s faithful propagandists, as well as a former commander of pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, have openly criticised Moscow’s stuttering military campaign in Ukraine in recent days, in a sign that the presumed iron-cast internal support for the Russian president may be eroding.

With Russia’s war in Ukraine, the European Union is probably entering a prolonged period of high gas prices, warns Ilaria Conti, from the Florence School of Regulation, saying the EU should use the crisis to mandate a storage obligation on EU member states and push for higher targets on renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Slovakia has tabled a proposal that would restrict agricultural commodities exports in light of the war in Ukraine, a move the European Commission has condemned, warning any bans of this nature to destabilise markets and lead to price increases.

Poland sent a letter to the European Commission asking them to support better digital integration of Ukraine including in the telecoms sector with other countries expected to add their voices to the call.

Social economy should not be thought of as an alternative to public services, according to the European Commissioner for jobs and social rights. Nevertheless, Nicolas Schmit argued that there was a need for a “third way” between the private, profit-oriented economy and publicly provided services that can be served by the social economy.

The first meeting of the European Parliament’s new COVID-19 committee (COVI) on Thursday did not bring about any concrete results but revealed the broad range of topics MEPs wish to address in the quest to collect lessons learnt from the pandemic.

In other news, Elon Musk tweeted that his $44-billion deal for Twitter Inc was “temporarily on hold” on Friday while he waits for data on the proportion of its fake accounts, sending shares in the social media platform plunging.

As most corporate tax systems in the EU currently prefer debt financing over equity and EU companies are highly indebted, the EU Commission proposed the introduction of a tax allowance that should incentivise the accrual of new equity rather than debt.

The European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) will vote on Monday and Tuesday (16-17 May) on half the texts in the European Commission’s flagship Fit for 55 package aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. EURACTIV France reports.

Global food security and the impact of Russia’s invasion are high on the agenda of the G7 agriculture ministers meeting on Friday and Saturday (13-14 May), with Ukrainian minister Mykola Solskyj as a special guest.

A quarter of a century has passed since the UK last won the Eurovision Song Contest, leading to years of speculation on whether political events such as Brexit crushed their chances of winning, but this year the tables may well turn.

Finally, have a look at our Tweets of the Week and don’t forget to listen to our this week’s Beyond the Byline podcast.

Last but not least, check out the latest Tech and Agrifood Briefs for a roundup of weekly news.

Look out for…

  • Foreign affairs ministers meet to discuss Western Balkans and the Russian aggression against Ukraine on Monday (16 May).
  • Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans meets with Mircea Geoană, NATO Deputy Secretary-General on Monday.
  • Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders receives Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs on Monday.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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