BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union citizens would like the 27-nation bloc to become fairer, show greater solidarity, lead the fight against climate change and make swifter decisions, even if it means scrapping the need for unanimity on some issues, an EU report showed.
The report is the result of a year of consultations with citizens by EU institutions, a process called the Conference on the Future of Europe, and spells out ideas for change, some of which would require amending EU treaties – a sensitive topic.
The 49 proposals will now be examined by the European Parliament, EU governments and the European Commission, the latter the only one able to propose new EU laws.
“Next month already, we will set out what is needed to bring your proposals to life and respond as best we can,” Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg.
“In some areas, your proposals give us a push to speed up work already ongoing. In other areas, we have already started the work you have asked for.” More Commission proposals inspired by the report would come in September, von der Leyen said.
The proposals listed in the report span nine themes: climate change and environment, the economy, migration, digital transformation, democracy, education, values and the rule of law, health, and the position of the EU in the world.
They are aimed at ending discrimination for all Europeans across the 27-nation bloc and urge it to be “bold and act fast” to become an environment and climate leader, by encouraging sustainable transport and becoming “a truly circular economy”.
Crucially the report calls for the EU to remove the principle of unanimity in EU decisions which now exists in areas of foreign and security policy, taxes, EU finances, some areas of justice and home affairs and social security and protection.
The requirement for unanimity has often been blamed for substantially slowing or even blocking the EU’s development, as all decisions in these areas have to be reduced to the lowest common denominator, a view shared by von der Leyen.
“Unanimity voting in some key areas simply no longer makes sense if we want to be able to move faster,” she said.
But such changes would require amendments to the EU treaties, which would be a long and difficult process and would in itself require unanimity.
Von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have said they would support treaty changes to allow the EU to be more agile in decision making, but many EU countries oppose that, arguing this is a bad time.
In a letter to the Commission signed by the Czech Republic, which will take over the EU’s rotating presidency from July 1 and 12 other governments, they say that with the bloc facing post-pandemic economic struggles, the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and climate change, treaty change now would only draw away resources from tackling the more urgent challenges.
“While we do not exclude any options at this stage, we do not support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards Treaty change,” the 13 EU governments wrote.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Hugh Lawson and Tomasz Janowski)