Treaty change might be coming. On 13 September, negotiators of the five largest pro-European groups in the European Parliament – Greens, Renew Europe, European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats, and The Left – reached an agreement; one that would bring forward treaty changes, triggered for the first time ever by the European Parliament.
The goal: more democracy, more citizen participation, more European security, and less blackmailing by autocrats. It is historic. It could be the breakthrough for a European integration process that has been stuck halfway.
The last European Union reform was in 2009 with the Treaty of Lisbon. However, major design flaws were not resolved. First and foremost: the principle of unanimity. Yes, Europe has mastered a number of crises in the past 14 years. But Europe’s answers were often too little, too late, and bypassed the European Parliament.
Most recently, the negotiations on sanctions against Putin and his henchmen have shown how shamelessly Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, uses his veto to weaken sanctions, to extort EU funds, and to paralyse European foreign policy. The unanimity principle is a security risk for Europe.
But how to set things in motion again when EU Member States have shown little appetite for reforming Europe’s institutional framework? To escape the deadlock, the European Parliament put Europe’s citizens at the heart of the reform process.
Between May 2021 and May 2022, 800 randomly selected citizens convened in Strasbourg four times. They discussed and argued about Europe’s future. And they came forward with more than 200 policy proposals for a new Europe. These European Citizens’ Panels were the centrepiece of the Conference on the Future of Europe. They would set the agenda for our work in the European Parliament.
We – five MEPs representing the five largest pro-European groups – turned the citizens’ demands into 140 pages of concrete proposals for EU treaty changes. These are, among many others: first, national vetoes in the Council should be almost completely abolished, including on tax policy, the EU budget, and foreign policy.
Second, sanctions against governments that violate fundamental EU values will be made easier. The European Court of Justice should decide whether fundamental values are violated, and the Council should then be able to impose sanctions by majority vote.
Third, a strong Parliament at the heart of European democracy. That means the Parliament would be able to propose laws and would have equal rights with the Council in deciding the budget.
Fourth, strengthening European elections and the democratic accountability of the EU Commission. We want voters to decide about the composition of the Commission. The president would be proposed by the Parliament and confirmed by the Council. Instead of 27 commissioners proposed by the Member States, 14 would be proposed by the president to the Parliament.
This is the call of the European Parliament and EU citizens for an EU reform. Now it is up to the Member States to answer.
We need a simple majority among the governments of the EU Member States, 14 out of 27, to start an EU convention. We have not yet achieved that. That’s why we need courageous, strong governments to lead the way right now. Because one thing is for certain: we need change if we’re to become a more democratic and more resilient Europe.