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MEPs aim to politicise EU institutions, scrap vetoes in planned treaty overhaul

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MEPs have called for a major reform of the EU treaties in a report approved on Wednesday (25 October), that would scrap a series of national vetoes and make the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, more overtly political. 

The report endorsed by MEPs on the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee on Wednesday with 19 votes for, six against, and one abstention would formally create a convention to re-open the EU treaties. 

The ambitious proposals set out by MEPs would form the Parliament’s contribution to a convention that would draw up treaty reforms. Some of them aim to make the EU institutions, and particularly the European Commission, more overtly political. 

The European Commission would be renamed as the ‘European Executive’, with its President nominated by Parliament and approved by EU leaders. In another move designed to politicise the EU executive, its members would be chosen by the Commission President based on their political preferences. 

The Parliament would also gain a fully-fledged right of legislative initiative and become a co-legislator for the EU’s long-term budget which, say MEPs, should cover a five-year period rather than the seven years at present. 

Other proposals in the report, meanwhile, seek to expand the EU’s policy remit on a range of issues including environment, energy and public health. On energy, the EU would be responsible for negotiating climate change agreements on behalf of the bloc. 

The EU’s competences in foreign affairs, security and defence and cross-border infrastructure would also be significantly increased. 

The Parliament text would also introduce a mechanism for EU-wide referendums, including on treaty change. 

The EU treaties have not been reformed since the Lisbon Treaty, which brought almost all of the proposed Constitutional Treaty into the treaties, was ratified in 2009. 

However, much of the political momentum for treaty reform that culminated in the Conference on the Future of Europe in 2021 and 2022, the EU’s first attempt at participatory democracy, which brought together several hundred Europeans to debate and propose reforms to the bloc, appears to have been lost. 

In her annual State of the Union speech to MEPs in September, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would always support “those who want to reform the EU”, such as the European Parliament. 

“And yes, that means including through a European convention and treaty change, if and where it is needed,” she told EU lawmakers. 

There appears to be little appetite among national governments to re-open the treaties against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. A Parliament resolution last year calling for treaty change was ignored by member states. Instead, a questionnaire was circulated to national capitals requesting their feedback on possible reforms. 

However, MEPs are hoping to use the report to force a vote by the Council – which would in this case vote with a simple majority and not with unanimity – before the end of the current legislative mandate in June 2024. That, say MEPs leading the work on the report, would mean a convention being set up shortly after the June European elections. 

The proposals are based on the recommendations made by the Conference on the Future of Europe, an experiment in participatory democracy that saw EU citizens take part in debates and policymaking.

“By improving the Treaties, we can secure Europe’s future and deliver better results for European citizens,” said Gaby Bischoff, the Socialist group’s spokesperson, and co-rapporteur on the report. 

“The EU needs to be properly equipped to deal with today’s world and improving the Treaties will ensure the EU is better placed to support people in times of crisis,” she added. 

Guy Verforstadt, co-rapporteur from the liberal Renew Europe group, stated: “The war in Ukraine, questions of enlargement and geopolitical pressures all around us all raise challenges. We need a Convention to finally debate what Europe’s answer will be.”

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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