Controversy over far-reaching reform of the EU

by time news
Controversy over far-reaching reform of the EU

Paris and Berlin want to bring more social skills to Brussels, put the brakes on northern and eastern Europeans.

The momentum is now, and Emmanuel Macron doesn’t want to let it go to waste. At the EU summit at the end of his Council Presidency on June 23rd and 24th, a genuine institutional reform of the Union will be discussed, the President announced at the closing ceremony of the European Future Conference just over a week ago. Far-reaching demands are on the table, including the communitization of health policy, an EU minimum wage and the democratization of European decision-making processes.

Berlin, Madrid, Rome, The Hague, Luxembourg and Brussels signed a so-called “non-paper” in the middle of the week – which means something like “discussion paper” in diplomatic EU jargon – which puts Macron’s efforts, the ideas of the future conference into the to implement action, supported. The heads of government of the six countries are also open to treaty changes. In the short term, they demand the use of an interinstitutional working group that will group the proposals of the citizens taking part in the conference according to their chances of being implemented and their urgency.

“Have EU that works”

But the weighty voices of these member states are opposed by the much larger group of reform resisters, which is mainly made up of northern and eastern European members. Denmark and Finland are among them, as are the Baltic States, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Malta. They too have written a non-paper in which they clearly position themselves against changes to the treaty. “We already have a Europe that works. We don’t need to push for institutional reforms to get results,” the Politico website quoted the document as saying.

In fact, the future conference’s proposals are not binding on the EU institutions. However, it would be a fatal sign to let the event, which was staged with a lot of pathos, come to nothing. And not only that: the countless crises of the past decade have made the deficits of the international community all too clear – just think of the beginning of the pandemic, when Germany refused to deliver medical material needed in Italy; or the current disagreement among member states on sanctions against Russia. So Macron will not let up in pushing ahead with his efforts to reform the EU. Together with the new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and Germany’s Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the President is likely to campaign for the gradual introduction of a social union – one of the central demands of the conference.

Austria is waiting

Austria is skeptical about this idea – although the government is “fundamentally open to treaty changes”, according to the office of Europe Minister Karoline Edtstadler in an interview with the “Presse”. The domestic government expressly supports certain proposals – including anchoring the system of leading candidates in European elections or rule of law conditionality – i.e. the mechanism that allows the Commission to withhold EU funds from member states should they violate rule of law criteria. In the case of the demanded repeal of unanimous decisions in foreign policy matters, Vienna rejects this – and for a very trivial reason: in the debate about new Russia sanctions, Austria finds itself in the minority because of its dependence on Russian oil and gas, so it could easily be overruled.

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