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European Parliament presses EU leaders to convene treaty change convention

The European Parliament is trying to force EU leaders to start a conversation over reforming the treaties underlying the bloc.

The Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution imploring EU leaders to convene a European Convention in order to amend the European Treaties “urgently.” Their goal: Make revisions that would repeal rules requiring EU unanimity on certain decisions, including imposing sanctions. Three hundred and fifty-five Parliament members voted in favor, while 154 were opposed.

The move adds to the momentum building for the issue to be placed on the agenda for an EU leaders’ summit later this month. During a debate with MEPs prior to the vote, Clément Beaune, the EU affairs minister for France, which holds the rotating Council of the EU presidency, vowed to prioritize the subject during the upcoming summit. Despite his pledge, though, many EU leaders remain skeptical about the topic.

“The commitment we take is to open the debate without delay,” he said, “even if it is difficult and above all if it is difficult.”

A debate over EU treaty change has been percolating for several years across the Continent, with numerous officials and national leaders expressing growing frustration at the ability of a single country to derail even small decisions, such as issuing joint EU statements. Russia’s war in Ukraine has made the debate more pressing — the EU has seen how a country like Hungary can drag out decisions on sanctions even if other countries have mostly gotten on board.

The resolution passed Thursday proposes that these conversations be hashed out at a European Convention, which would bring together representatives from various parliaments, as well as heads of state and government. Their task, the resolution said, would be to change the EU’s treaties to ensure “the Union has the competence to take more effective action during future crises.”

It is now up to EU leaders to determine whether to hold such a convention, which they must approve via a majority vote. But actually changing the treaties would require a consensus that appears highly unlikely.

Thursday’s resolution follows up on the Conference on the Future of Europe, a sprawling forum meant to gather citizen feedback on reshaping the EU. Politicians helped turn the feedback into 49 proposals and 326 measures designed to implement those ideas.

Some of the more notable suggestions included holding EU-wide referendums on certain issues and tweaking the unanimity rules that allow a single country to block decisions on sensitive areas like taxation and foreign policy.

“With an historic vote, the Parliament has sent a clear message to the Council: We are ready to take our responsibility and to reform the European Union to increase its capability to act and to get rid of the paralyzing unanimity principle,” said Gabriele Bischoff, a German socialist MEP who helped manage the resolution. “With a convention, we have a chance to deliver … and to strengthen democratic and social resilience.”

Specifically, the resolution calls for the EU to move to a “qualified majority” threshold for decisions on “relevant areas, such as the adoption of sanctions,” as well as “in the event of an emergency.”

The resolution also presses for Parliament to be given the “right to initiate, amend or repeal legislation.” Currently, the European Commission proposes legislation.

But some EU governments have already made clear they oppose treaty change, arguing the move would only distract the bloc from more pressing issues. Last 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.”

EU leaders will next gather for a summit on June 23 and 24.

Beaune, the French minister, noted the EU could implement some of the citizen proposals without treaty change, particularly those on health, trade or education. And he echoed a promise Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made in May when she vowed to announce “the first new proposals” in response to the citizen input during her next State of the Union speech in September.

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