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Von der Leyen’s lukewarm support for EU treaty change points to lost momentum

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave lukewarm support for reform of the EU treaties in her State of the Union speech on Wednesday (13 September), in an indication that momentum for treaty reform has been lost.

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 in Strasbourg.

However, the EU executive’s chief pointed out that the EU “cannot” and “should not wait for treaty change to move ahead with enlargement”. Opponents of enlargement have often touted the issue of the EU’s unwieldy decision-making structure and the need for an informal reform before it can take on any new members.

Centre-left MEP Gabriele Bischoff, one of the EU lawmakers who worked on the Parliament’s report to call for a treaty convention, told a press conference on Wednesday that those who are “in favour of enlargement” have to consider the necessity of treaty change.

In last year’s State of the Union speech, von der Leyen gave stronger support for a treaty convention, as part of the follow-up measures approved by citizens in the Conference of the Future of Europe (CoFoE), a year-long participative democracy experiment where participants had a say in shaping EU policymaking.

“Von der Leyen is not opposed to the convention,” said Green/EFA MEP Daniel Freund, who also worked on the file to open the convention, but pointed out that she is not a “cheerleader” for treaty reform.

In June 2022, the Parliament approved a resolution asking the Council to vote on the opening of a convention to reform the European treaties.

The Council reacted by circulating a questionnaire among member states last summer to test attitudes towards the plan, and 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.

Since then, the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee (AFCO) has been working on a report with reform proposals for the convention based on the recommendations made by CoFoE that will be voted on Thursday (14 September) in the committee and “before the end of the year” in the plenary. The goal of the rapporteurs is 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 this legislative mandate in June 2024.

According to Renew MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the convention would then start after the new European Parliament takes office.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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