15 Dezember 2023

Update: How the European Parliament wants to reform the EU treaties

By Manuel Müller
Notepad with proposals for EU reform
The plenary has spoken: There is a new entry in the list of draft treaty reforms.

For more than a year, a group of rapporteurs from the European Parliament has been working on proposals to reform the EU treaties. Last August, it presented its draft, which was also discussed on this blog at the time.

Since then, the report has cleared further hurdles in Parliament: On 25 October it was adopted by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and on 22 November by the plenary of the Parliament. With 291 votes in favour, 274 against and 44 abstentions, the decision was relatively close. The Greens, a majority of Socialists and Liberals, a minority of the European People’s Party, and a few Left and non-attached MEPs voted in favour of the report. The right-wing groups ID and ECR both voted unanimously against it.

Concessions to the sceptics

Faced with a narrow majority, the report’s supporters made some concessions in the final stages, especially to sceptics within the EPP. For example, the rapporteurs’ draft had proposed to significantly reduce the majority requirements for Council decisions: the standard voting procedure would no longer be by qualified majority (55% of governments representing 65% of the population) but by a newly-defined “simple majority” (50% of governments representing 50% of the population). This proposal has now been withdrawn by the plenary, as has the abolition of national vetoes on tax harmonisation. Moreover, the current unanimity procedures for reforming the European electoral law would no longer be replaced by qualified majority voting (as proposed by the rapporteurs), but by a “reinforced qualified majority”.

Another idea that was dropped was the abolition of national vetoes on future EU treaty reforms. This proposal by the rapporteurs could have been a breakthrough in the EU’s ongoing reformability crisis, but it would also have posed national constitutional challenges in some member states. The plenary has now abandoned this reform and instead only suggested that treaty reforms should also require the consent of the European Parliament. Although this is an overdue step in terms of European parliamentarism, it also means that there would be one more veto player in addition to national governments and parliaments in future EU treaty reforms.

Only few proposals were strengthened

The plenary also deleted all references to Europe-wide referendums and to the EU’s right to set minimum requirements for acquiring EU citizenship. The rapporteurs’ proposal to shorten the multiannual financial framework to five years was watered down to “five to seven years” – which would mean no relevant change to the status quo.

Only on very few points, the plenary version is stronger than the rapporteurs’ draft. One of these is that, if an Article 7 procedure is triggered, the Council would in future be obliged to respond to it within six months. A permanent delay, as has happened in the current cases against Hungary and Poland, would no longer be possible.

Some inconsistencies

Overall, however, these changes to the rapporteurs’ draft represent only selective concessions, rather than a truly new approach. This can also be seen from the fact that some of the amendments were not implemented consistently, leading to some inconsistencies in the version adopted by the plenary.

For example, the rapporteurs had proposed to introduce a new voting procedure called “reinforced qualified majority voting” for various decisions in the Council. Decisions under this rule would require 80% of governments representing 50% of the population to be adopted. In the plenary version, the new procedure is still mentioned several times, but its definition has been deleted, making it completely unclear what a “reinforced qualified majority” would mean.

In a similar way, the plenary resolution continues to call for “Europol [to] receive additional competences subject to parliamentary scrutiny” – but the rapporteurs’ specific proposals for what these additional competences should be have been deleted from the text of the Treaty.

Still an ambitious draft treaty

But despite all this watering down and the minor inconsistencies, the text now adopted by the Parliament should not be undervalued. It is still one of the most ambitious EU treaty reform drafts currently under discussion. With the abolition of unanimity in a large number of policy areas, a new procedure for the election of the president and other members of the Commission, a simplified procedure for parliamentary censure, and a reformed Article 7 procedure, it would bring important improvements for parliamentary democracy, for the EU’s capacity to act and for the protection of its fundamental values.

The fact that the text finally was adopted in plenary shows that the Parliament is capable of taking action to shape Europe’s institutional future. This is also and especially relevant in comparison with the European Council, which in recent days has struggled to make even minimal progress on enlargement and has once again postponed the question of reforms.

Next step: Convention

With the adoption of the report, the European Parliament’s immediate follow-up process to the Conference on the Future of Europe’s institutional proposals is now completed. At the same time, Parliament has formally “submit[ted] to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties”, which is the first step towards treaty reform under Art. 48 (2) TEU. The next step will be for the Council to forward these proposals to the European Council, which can then convene a Convention by a simple majority. In its resolution, the Parliament has called on the Council and the European Council to do so “immediately” and “as soon as possible”.

The European Council, for its part, announced at its meeting yesterday that it would “address internal reforms at its upcoming meetings with a view to adopting by summer 2024 conclusions on a roadmap for future work”. Stay tuned!

The adopted version of the European Parliament’s resolution on proposals for the amendment of the treaties can be found here.

For a tabular overview of its main contents and a comparison with the rapporteurs’ draft and six other comprehensive treaty reform proposals, click here.

Picture: Notepad with proposals for EU reform: Manuel Müller [all rights reserved].

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