(Nous reprenons ici, in extenso, un article paru sur Euractiv le 27 0ctobre 2023 - les sous-titres sont ajoutés) (1):
"No one could accuse members of the European Parliament of lacking ambition in cajoling EU leaders into reopening the EU treaties."
An ambitious but coherent shopping list
The shopping list of proposals endorsed by the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee this week is ambitious but coherent.
The Commission and the Parliament
On the institutional reform side, renaming the European Commission as the ‘European Executive’ is a small but symbolic step. It confirms what has long been the case: that the institution is a political executive rather than simply a civil service.
Giving its president the right to pick their own ministers based on political preference, rather than having to shuffle around the commissioners sent by national capitals, would go in the same direction.
For too long, the Commission has been caught between two stools; neither political enough to really advance the EU’s interests nor administrative enough to satisfy the Eurosceptics.
Yet in design and function, it is the closest thing to an EU government. Calling it a European executive would simply be an overdue exercise in calling a spade a spade.
Giving the Parliament the full right to initiate legislation and changing the EU’s long-term budget to cover five rather than seven years are also modest but sensible steps.
Foreign policy and referendum
Other items on the shopping list, however, look less realistic.
Further EU integration on foreign policy and defence will almost certainly come via enhanced cooperation rather than scrapping national vetoes across the EU27. Robert Fico and Viktor Orban, in Slovakia and Hungary respectively, are hardly likely to agree to end unanimity on sanctions and foreign policy.
Plans to introduce a mechanism for pan-EU referendums, meanwhile, smack of the same sort of gimmickry as pan-European election lists.
Demand for a Convention
The big question is whether demands for a convention will fly. MEPs may be keen, but the momentum driven by French President Emmanuel Macron has evaporated.
After being ignored last year when they passed a resolution calling for treaty change, Parliament now wants to force a vote on whether to open a constitutional convention.
The European Council will fudge it
Most likely is that national leaders will fudge it – the war in Israel and Palestine will probably join the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis as reasons not to be diverted by full EU treaty reform – with the end result of a group or groups of countries moving forward with more integration via ‘enhanced cooperation’.
Ursula von der Leyen’s September State of the Union speech hinted that while she may support full treaty change herself, the Commission chief is not going to expend political capital pushing it on reluctant national leaders.
A Spinellian starting point
However, if the Parliament’s proposals do not get off the ground now, they at least represent a starting point for negotiations when they do come.
Dating back to Altiero Spinelli, who drew up the first treaty of the European Union, MEPs have been among the leading drivers of EU reform, often for the simple reason that more policy competences for the European Commission mean a more powerful Parliament.
That rationale applies now. So, too, does the maxim that politicians should be called politicians.