by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 21
June 2022
News
10:43

EU President reveals new plan to override rebel states

Ursula von der Leyen hints at a fundamental change to the bloc
by William Nattrass
“In foreign affairs, we really have to move to qualified majority voting,” von Der Leyen said. Credit: Getty

National sovereignty within the EU could be set for another downgrade. Murmurings of discontent about the bloc’s inability to act quickly on the international stage have persisted since Hungary’s refusal to sign up to sanctions on Russian oil. Now, plans are afoot to cut off such embarrassments at the root by removing member states’ right to veto legislation. 

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, European Commission President dropped a remark which could fundamentally alter the democratic calculus of the EU. She described the need for the bloc to dispense with the troublesome need for unanimity when deciding foreign policy. 

“In foreign affairs, we really have to move to qualified majority voting,” von Der Leyen said, before saying that she was “deeply convinced” that the current decision-making system requiring unanimity “is not sustainable.” The ability of one member state to block a proposal is, she says, a problem which must be removed because “the world wants to hear a European voice.” 

The statement comes days after calls for the removal of veto powers in EU fiscal policy too. Hungary’s veto of a proposal to implement a global minimum corporation tax last week led to more claims that Budapest is merely using veto powers to force concessions as Brussels continues to withhold its Covid recovery funds. In response, a group of MEPs have set up a petition calling for veto powers to be scrapped to “stop Orbán’s blackmailing of the EU.” 

The EU will have a hard time pushing through the plan to switch to a qualified majority system. A convention involving heads of government would have to reach consensus for unanimity voting to be abolished, and Orbán can hardly be expected to shoot himself in the foot. 

Still, von der Leyen’s open discontent with the current system is the clearest indication yet of the direction in which the bloc wants to go. The drive to change the rules is motivated partly by the humiliation of Orbán holding the bloc hostage over oil sanctions, but also by a growing awareness that accelerated plans for EU expansion will only introduce more geopolitical friction. 

With EU candidate status set to be agreed for Ukraine and Moldova later this week, the EU is — at least theoretically — keen to admit states with a justifiably unbending view of international affairs. But this would present problems for decision-making based on unanimity, which often requires delicate compromise, the whittling down of objections, and the softening of hard-line stances until all member states give their consent to a given proposal.  

Meanwhile, the EU’s renewed charm offensive in the western Balkans carries obvious geopolitical pitfalls. Candidate country Serbia remains deeply hostile to NATO and continues to resist imposing sanctions on Russia. As an EU member state, it would likely veto overtly anti-Russian policies. By removing the requirement for unanimity, the bloc would give itself the ability to nullify such ideological differences.  

This would mark a fundamental change to what being an EU member state means. States would have to accept being swept along with the majority “European voice,” even when that voice runs contrary to their own perceived interests and international affiliations. By enforcing conformity, Brussels might become more powerful on the international stage — but many will see a further weakening of national sovereignty as too high a price to pay. 

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AC Harper
AC Harper
5 months ago

Gosh. It seems that Brexit’s ‘taking back sovereignty’ was prescient. I wonder how the Remainers are going to explain this away?

Last edited 5 months ago by AC Harper
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I voted reluctantly to remain because I had no faith that our political class would in fact be able to negotiate a reasonable exit from a vengeful EU or would actually take advantage of the freedoms available as a result of any Brexit to improve the lot of the UK citizens. So far my fears have been borne out ( I never believed the remainder predictions of immediate economic disaster). I agree we have temporarily slipped the noose of rule by an undemocratic EU bureaucracy but time will tell as to whether we will take advantage of our theoretical freedom or whether we will be drawn back into some subservient relationship to the EU that is worse than our former state by our remainer obsessed politicians, who hope to benefit personally from the pork barrel.
Our comparatively successful vaccination program could probably have been achieved within the EU if our politicians had stuck to their guns and our more effective support of Ukraine is at the end of the day probably more beneficial to the EU countries bordering Russia than us. I am not sure what we have actually got out of Brexit to date. We would not be such a draw for illegal immigration if we were to reform out social systems to exclude illegal incomers from all the benefits available to those that have spent a lifetime paying into the system.

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Indeed, the original sin of the British welfare state is that it is non-contributory – i.e. it is possible to draw unlimited benefits without ever making any contribution. This seriously needs to be addressed (I suggest not only for immigrants), regardless of the immigration debate (though I agree this is a pull factor).

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Disagree. I’m comfortable that we’ll accrue the benefits over the next twenty years – no rush required.
You’re wrong on the Covid response – we’d have been trapped by EU decision making; and your comment about Eastern EU countries benefiting from our independent response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is correct, but you fail to appreciate that we’ve always supported Eastern European countries since WW2 regardless of the EU, and now they’re within the EU it allows us to influence the EU and the continent’s balance of power – as we have for 300 years.

D Glover
D Glover
5 months ago

Who elected Ursula von der Leyen as President? She seems to have been agreed upon by Merkel and Macron in camera.
She was confirmed in post by the EU Parliament by the narrowest possible margin of just over 50%, in an election with no other option than saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
No transparency, and no other candidates. Is this what europeans now understand to be democracy?

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

The proposals might not be so bad if the EU was a democratic body – but now these unelected officials want to pass laws with no reference to the democratically elected leaders of the constituent countries.
Really quite scary – even Russia pretends to be a democracy but the EU doesn’t even bother pretending.

D Glover
D Glover
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

I don’t think I’d go that far. All Vlad’s opponents are either dead or in prison. Navalny is the recent example.
The EU lords don’t actually kill each other, they just don’t do democracy. That was my point.

Chris Martin
Chris Martin
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Another key question is by what process can Ursula be removed from office? I think we all understand how a Prime Minister in the UK can be deposed – either his party votes no confidence; the House of Commons votes no confidence; or there’s a General Election. Can any EU fans enlighten me what the process is for deposing an EU President? As far as I am aware there isn’t one.

Guy Aston
Guy Aston
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris Martin

I recall Tony Benn questioning the same issue: how did you get there and how can we remove you?

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
5 months ago
Reply to  Guy Aston

Tony Benn put his finger accurately on the issue at stake. I strongly disagreed with him on practically everything else he did or advocated, but on this he was right, and every democrat – whether from left, right, centre or unattached – should (a) applaud him and (b) keep asking this question.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

It’s pretty much what the EEC/EU has always (mis)understood to be democracy. Referenda that gave the “wrong” answer were just rerun so that the respective electorates could correct their mistake and (to quote Gilbert & Sullivan) “vote just as their leaders tell ’em to.”

Reece Hudson
Reece Hudson
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Who elected Johnson, the Lo4ds or the Queen for that matter?

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago
Reply to  Reece Hudson

Doh ! We elected Johnson. I’d be fairly certain that anyone who voted Conservative in 2019 had at least some opinion on Boris Johnson. And that a good percentage voted for him with some reluctance as the lesser of two evils.
But to imply that Johnson has no popular mandate is rubbish. Far greater vote share than Blair in his two later elections.

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Quite.
Here’s are three useful questions to test the strength of democracy in the EU: “Name me one piece of valuable legislation introduced (initiated – not rubber-stamped) by the European Parliament, one memorable European Parliament debate, one member of the European Parliament who changed anything that mattered ?”.
We would not have too much difficulty answering those questions for the House of Commons – even today with some of the dross currently attending.
I suggest also the fact that the EU parliamentary elections are so little regarded is also a useful “weathervane” (borrowing from Tony Benn here). Does anyone remember staying up late for the results or seeing a hotly contested election ? A “Portillo moment” ? No – because they don’t make any difference.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Actually, the MEPs couldn’t say ‘No’. Their choice is to confirm or abstain.

Mark Knight
Mark Knight
5 months ago

 “By removing the requirement for unanimity, the bloc would give itself the ability to nullify such ideological differences.”
’The bloc’ being the unelected self-selecting bureaucratic elite that intends to ‘nullify’ incorrect ideologies – resulting from wrong-think – to ensure the uncontested dominance of ‘the bloc’s’ ideology. The fact that they are so open about their intentions is what make it so scary.

Michael James
Michael James
5 months ago

The EU has been on the road to a superstate (‘ever closer union’) since it was founded in 1957. Abolishing national votoes is the logically necessary final step to that end.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
5 months ago
Reply to  Michael James

Which is why every supporter of democracy ought to have vote Leave in the 2106 referendum.
Presumably the next step for the EU after abolishing national vetoes will be to abolish the right of member states to leave the EU.

Dan Davies
Dan Davies
5 months ago

even when that voice runs contrary to their own perceived interests and international affiliations”
or when that voice runs contrary to their own democratically elected governments

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago

Who can be surprised that this is proposed ? The continuing expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe means the numbers simply are not there any more to support the hegemony of France and Germany and the continuation of absurd policies like the CAP. The only way to avoid the Franco-German/Brussels bureaucracy losing control is to diminish democracy and strengthen the unelected centre.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
5 months ago

Well removing member states’ demos a say in policy has been the goal since it’s inception.
Colour me surprised.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago

Could a passerelle clause be used to effect the shift?

Peter B
Peter B
5 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Thanks for bringing our attention to this – I suspect that most of us (myself included) were not aware that such things existed. But – the EU being the protectionist, undemocratic bureaucracy that it is – perhaps it is no surprise.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
5 months ago

The EU is literally blackmailing Budapest by holding up their rightful COVID aid over completely unrelated policy differences, but has the audacity to urge an end to unanimity to “stop Orban’s blackmailing of the EU.” Don’t let reality get in the way of your colonialism, Ursula.
I see a problem though. Don’t changes to the EU treaty require unanimity? Budapest isn’t going along with that, especially given the recent behavior of the Brussels. So is this just a backdoor way for the EU to force a Hungexit?

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
5 months ago

Hmm. The article more than hints at a difficulty with, for example, Hungary ‘blackmailing’ the EU on some sanctions. NI, for example, voted against Brexit but was it respected?

I’m not an EU super state fan BTW

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
5 months ago

BTW – NI didn’t have a vote on Brexit, the U.K. did.
On the Hungary blackmailing the EU issue, it’s really the other way round as the (unelected) EU Commission are blackmailing Hungary to “mend their backward ways”
They started it, and now they see the consequences of their arrogance.
Thank heaven we “got off the train” when we did …

Last edited 5 months ago by Ian Barton
Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

‘Thank heaven we “got off the train” when we did …’
Absolutely right.
My guess is that in future years member states will be denied the right to get off the train. “Shackled to a corpse” is how I remember Basil Fawlty describing his marriage: a very appropriate analogy for membership of the EU.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

There’s plenty wrong with the EU but I think you’re going to be disappointed if you think Brexit is the solution. Time will tell.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
5 months ago

Re: wordless reactions
I take it that it is very naughty of the EU to restrict local vetos but same does not apply to UKOGBANI.