“The opposition voices represent a minority and ignore the fact our party’s group in the European Parliament has voted in favour of qualified majority voting”, the EPP source added. [Shutterstock/Alexandros Michailidis]
Internal discussions in the EU’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) – the largest political family in Europe – saw an “unsettling” exchange about the drafting process of its EU election manifesto, Euractiv has learnt.
There was “much nagging” as some party members even opposed considering amendments to the draft manifesto, an early version of which was first reported by Euractiv, that were submitted after the scheduled deadline.
During a discussion on the matter, EPP Secretary-General Thanasis Bakolas was determined to have all the parties heard and accept the amendments submitted even after the deadline, a party official from a national government who spoke to Euractiv on condition of anonymity.
The EPP official noted that Bakolas mentioned that “every party has a voice” and rejected any kind of “informal working group drafting policies behind closed doors.”
Contacted by Euractiv, Bakolas did not comment on the matter but said, “The discussion continues on equal footing.”
One of the key points of friction was the proposal to replace unanimity with qualified majority voting (QMV) on foreign policy and security matters.
“Europe can only represent its interests in the world if it speaks with one voice! Europe must not allow itself to be divided or stuck,” the draft manifesto said, adding that the party would “therefore advocate replacing the unanimity principle in foreign and defence policy decisions with qualified majority voting”.
Such a voting modality would require 15 of the 27 member states to be in agreement – as long as they represent more than 65% of the EU’s population of 450 million. The system mostly favours France and Germany, the EU’s two most populous countries.
Last year, a group of nine member states pushed for the change in the bloc’s foreign policy decision-making to make ’faster and more effective’.
Although a number of member parties stressed the need to introduce such a change, an EPP source said several others firmly opposed it.
“The opposition voices represent a minority and ignore the fact our party’s group in the European Parliament has voted in favour of qualified majority voting”, the EPP source added.
Some Nordic delegations expressed their reservations over such a step, a source familiar with the matter in Berlin told Euractiv.
The German conservatives are one of the starkest advocates of expanding qualified majority voting to foreign policy matters. The CDU and CSU have been pushing for the matter for a long time and already included it in their joint party programme for the European election 2019.
The CDU even made it one of their major priorities in the EU chapter of the draft of their new party manifesto, which will be approved in the coming months.
“Decision-making procedures are to be simplified and accelerated, including through majority decisions in foreign and security policy,” the draft for the manifesto that will likely guide the policy of the CDU throughout the next decade reads.
As the world appears to be increasingly prone to conflict, the matter is moving even higher on the agenda of the German conservatives.
“In a changing world, Europe risks being increasingly torn between the interests of non-European superpowers. If we still want to be perceived as a player on the global political stage in the future, we must manage to speak with a strong voice as Europe,” Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesperson and MP for the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag told Euractiv.
The German politician added that the veto option of every member state has “made us vulnerable to internal blackmail”.
“That is why qualified majority decisions in European foreign policy are essential if, after intensive discussion, the compromise reached is still not acceptable to everyone”, he noted.
The German conservatives are also attempting to actively lobby in favour of qualified majority voting among the other members of the EPP.
“It is more important that a united and strong Europe speaks with one voice in the world and is perceived as such. I will continue to campaign for this with the other sister parties,” Hardt told Euractiv.
Hold your horses
The debate of “unanimity vs. qualified majority” voting is far from new, and its intensity has gone through various ups and downs depending on the crises the EU finds itself in.
Despite this renewed push by certain parts of the EPP, other political groups and certain member states, such a step remains far off.
While EU member states and institutions agree the bloc is too often slow to act, especially in crises, previous attempts to change its voting method have failed because smaller countries, and in the past, Eastern European states in particular, fear their policy concerns could be disregarded.
Defenders of unanimity claim the rule encourages harder negotiations, enhances democratic legitimacy and strengthens the projection of unity towards the outside.
Opponents argue they could lose out if all decisions were made via QMV, which is currently used for most EU business but not for certain circumscribed areas, including foreign and security policy, as it represents core national sovereignty.
However, any legally binding agreement on the issue would require the ratification of all 27 EU member states.
An additional hurdle is that some EU member states would likely hold a referendum on the issue if a treaty change is required – a step that in 2005 resulted in the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, then by France and the Netherlands.
Other options exist
Opponents also argue that the bloc would not necessarily need to change its rules to be more effective in its foreign policymaking.
Instead, it could use three different options provided for by the EU treaties.
One would be through constructive abstention; when a member state does not agree with a collective action, it chooses to abstain rather than veto.
This option was never used until Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán left the room in December when the decision on opening Ukraine accession talks was about to be taken, knowing the other leaders would go ahead and vote.
Another would be a special derogation given by the EU leaders or the EU’s chief diplomat or through a passerelle clause when EU leaders adopt a decision enabling member states to act by a qualified majority in specific foreign policy cases.
(Alexandra Brzozowski | Euractiv.com, Oliver Noyan | Euractiv.de – Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com)