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Germany and France with unofficial proposals for EU reform

2023-09-23 08:26:49, Kosova & Bota CNA

Germany and France with unofficial proposals for EU reform

The experts' report does not represent official positions adopted on EU reform. But the fact that the experts worked under the supervision of the German and French Foreign Ministries makes it an important report. 12 international experts from research institutions worked on the 60-page document since the beginning of the year.

Ideas about the way and pace of EU expansion in the new world geopolitical situation have not been missing before. This time we are dealing with a joint initiative of the main powers of the EU, Germany and France to guide the debate on reforming the European Union. The idea that the Western Balkans and possibly Ukraine could join the EU brought together the two countries, which have had different views in many areas recently.

The State Secretary at the German Foreign Ministry, Anna Lührmann, said on the occasion of the publication of the report that "it is clear that the enlargement of the EU is in the interest of all of us". "And that is why we must start doing everything that we can now to ensure that we as an EU are ready for this enlargement."

Germany and France with unofficial proposals for EU reform
State Secretary at the German Foreign Ministry, Anna Lührmann

Germany and France structure with the report the discussion on EU institutional reforms, before or during the accession of new members. Experts write that by 2030, the EU should be ready for enlargement.

The urgency in the steps for EU enlargement has been emphasized after the backward steps in democracy in many countries of the Western Balkans, candidates for EU membership. This fact makes these countries more inclined to accept offers from countries like China and Russia. The war in Ukraine also put on the table the issue of starting EU negotiations with Ukraine.

Key recommendations of the report

The experts' report proposes, among other things, the transition from unanimous decision-making to qualified majority decision-making in the EU. Germany has been asking for this for months in Brussels, and France does not oppose it. Unanimous decision-making in the EU is currently used to pressure and block the EU, so it is intended to be avoided. 

It is further proposed that payments to EU members be more strongly linked to the application of the principles of the rule of law. Currently, the EU has major problems in this regard with Poland and Hungary.

It is further requested that the European Commission be reduced, i.e. reduce the number of commissioners sent to Brussels. This proposal is contained in the Lisbon Agreement of the EU, but so far it has not been implemented. 

The report also puts on the table for discussion the French proposal for different degrees of integration of the member states, known as concentric circles.

Germany and France with unofficial proposals for EU reform

Why are qualified majority votes required?

The expert report proposes to generalize the decision-making by qualified majority. And to limit the taking of unanimous decisions. Unanimous decisions are only necessary e.g. for EU foreign and security policy, or for changing EU institutions. But not for EU tax policy. This requirement is covered by the Lisbon Agreement.

However, in order to support the small EU member states more, the experts propose, among other things, two innovations: the first, that the qualified majority is calculated differently than until now. Now this majority is calculated that for a decision, at least 55% of EU states must vote, which simultaneously represent 65% of the EU population. In the future, it is required that both figures become 60%, that is, that more countries vote yes, but that the number of the population they represent be smaller. Second, in those cases, when states argue that majority decisions affect vital national interests, the EU Council should find the solution.

This means that in the European Commission, which plays the role of the government of Europe, only two thirds of the member states are represented by one commissioner. So that not every state has its own commissioner. A European Commission with up to 37 members is thought to be unable to function effectively.

Another idea being presented is to create two categories of EU commissioners. But only half of them have the right to vote. For this, the founding EU Agreement should be changed.

But it is known that changing this Agreement is very difficult. It is therefore proposed that the innovation with commissioners be introduced with a membership agreement for new states. The membership agreement should contain all the reforms that are a consequence of the enlargement. All member states would avoid referendums in this case, because they would only be voting on the membership agreement, not on changing the basic EU Agreement.  

Germany and France with unofficial proposals for EU reform

While in the European Parliament, the number of deputies, according to the report, should be reduced to 751 people.

Concentric circles and importance

With this French formulation, four levels of integration of the EU states are understood: the deepest integration, i.e. the core, where there are e.g. Eurozone member states and Schengen states; other integration, which the rest of the EU members currently have; one level below will be the associated members of the EU, which join the EU common market and which apply common basic principles; at the fourth level we see the European Political Community. 

From these circles or levels of integration, the new element and the only one that is currently being discussed with an interest is the associated membership. Some long-time EU candidate states prefer this status to nothing, while others fear they could remain "perpetually" associated.

The European Political Community was the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, to represent Europe's interests outside the EU. This idea has now been reduced to twice-yearly meetings of EU heads of state and government with non-EU counterparts.

Conditionalization of funds by the rule of law

The problems that the EU currently has with Poland and Hungary, which do not respect the principles of the rule of law, are known. German and French experts request the simplification of the Article 7 procedure - that is, to facilitate the removal of the right to vote in the European Council, for a state that commits a violation. It is further requested that EU payments and funds to these countries depend more strongly on conditions.

Germany and France with unofficial proposals for EU reform

Echoes of the report and skepticism towards France

The report was sent to the EU General Council on Tuesday. Since several months, when several German and French positions on EU reform have been learned, a lively debate has followed. This was exactly the goal: to ignite a debate. The report of international experts commissioned by Germany and France is a structuring of the reform debate, but also a test of opinion in the EU. 

In older EU states, it is being examined with interest, newer states are somewhat skeptical of the proposals. Thus, the Baltic States, Poland and Croatia presented an alternative report of political scientists on EU enlargement. He was presented at a dinner of the Latvian embassy in Brussels, it was announced in the French press. These countries fear that the German-French proposals will further delay EU enlargement.

The war in Ukraine as well as the risk that it would remain isolated in the corner of an enlarged European Union with eastern members made France change its position: France abandoned its traditional position of restraining the expansion of the EU. Paris adopted Berlin's traditional, pro-enlargement stance. French President Macron is expected to give a special speech on this topic early next year.

But French proposals for EU enlargement continue to be viewed with skepticism in some parts of Europe. Paris doesn't have the confidence she wants. Between the French government's pro-European statements and its concrete actions, many observers often find that there is a gap.

In the face of closing the French border to refugees from Lampedusa, for example, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera wrote this week, not without irony, that "the most European of all European governments wants to teach everyone a lesson in dignified behavior." "But as soon as a national interest is affected, it behaves as nationalistically as the government of Hungary, maybe even worse than Orbán."

At the beginning of October, the heads of state and government of the European Union will discuss in an informal meeting in Granada, for the first time, the changes in the EU. In December, a decision is expected on whether or not to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova./ DW

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