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EU treaty change ‘not a taboo,’ says Scholz

BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday he didn’t rule out changes to the EU treaties but also warned against institutional navel-gazing.

Scholz’s remarks came amid renewed debate about possible changes to the way the EU functions, prompted in part by the Conference on the Future of Europe, a year-long forum to come up with ideas for political reform. The conference made proposals for deeper integration, including the abolition of national vetos.

That has prompted the European Parliament to call for a convention to revamp the EU’s treaties — an idea that has long provoked skepticism among many EU governments, who argue it is unnecessary and would distract the bloc from more pressing issues.

“If the matter requires it, then we can talk about changing the treaties, including a convention. That’s not a taboo,” Scholz told the German parliament.

“But it is important that we achieve the greatest possible consensus,” the chancellor cautioned, “because if there is one thing we don’t need at this time, it’s controversial and time-consuming navel-gazing on institutional issues.”

The question of whether the EU should abandon the need for unanimity in votes on foreign policy has also been the subject of renewed debate in recent weeks, as Hungary has held up the adoption of a ban on Russian oil.

But while a number of EU leaders have voiced support for ending unanimity on some issues and for changing the treaties, it is far from clear whether they could agree on which topics should be subject to majority voting and which elements of the treaties should be changed.

Calling majority voting one of the “ideas aiming to make the EU more efficient,” Scholz said he was happy that “more and more people are following this idea.”

During a ceremony to conclude the Conference on the Future of Europe on May 8, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron voiced support for treaty change.

Macron, who has been an openly enthusiastic supporter of profound EU reform since he took office in 2017, was for years kept at arm’s length on the issue by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took a more cautious approach.

Scholz’s remarks on Thursday were seized upon by some Europhiles in the Brussels bubble as a sign of a shift in Berlin’s approach, while others pointed out that Merkel also sometimes flagged support for treaty change but her words had never been followed by deeds.

Some EU governments have already made clear they remain skeptical about treaty change. Earlier this month, 13 EU countries including all Baltic and Scandinavian members said they “do not support unconsidered and premature attempts to launch a process towards treaty change.”

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