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Changes to EU treaties will be the biggest constitutional reform in the history of the Community. However, there is still a long way to go

POLITICSChanges to EU treaties will be the biggest constitutional reform in the history of the Community. However, there is still a long way to go

Changes in two key European Union treaties are a topic that has been stirring controversy in Poland for months, not only among politicians. The European Parliament has proposed in them that more decisions should be made by majority vote without the requirement of unanimity. It also wants to move some sections to shared or exclusive EU competences and to change the working model of the European Commission. The implementation of these changes would mean radical constitutional reforms in the European Union, unprecedented in its history. However, the path to this is still very long, requiring the unanimous consent of all the Communities, which is not currently available. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that changes in the functioning of the EU are necessary, due in part to its planned expansion.

“We recently have an intense debate in Poland related to the fact that the European Parliament recently proposed changes to the European treaties. The formal change of treaties is a very tedious, long process, requiring the engagement of many entities, and in the end, the changes must be accepted by all EU member states. That’s why the step taken by the European Parliament is just the first in this long procedure, it is the initiation of discussions, drawing attention to important matters. The actual change of the treaties is still something distant. However, there is a conviction within EU institutions that some changes are necessary. They are strongly connected to the fact that the EU is trying to expand to other candidate countries, such as Ukraine,” says Bartłomiej Balcerzyk, Director of the European Commission Representation in Poland.

On November 22nd, the European Parliament voted in Strasbourg for the adoption of a report by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO), recommending changes to two EU treaties – the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The report recommends about 270 amendments which – as indicated by the EP – are intended to tighten cooperation and increase the Union’s operational capacity as well as make its citizens have a greater say in decision-making. One of the arguments for their implementation is also improving decision-making processes in relation to the potential expansion of the EU.

“The expansion of the EU will most likely occur, the question is just how quickly. And if we end up having 30 or even more countries in the European Union, it is necessary to discuss how to make decisions on important matters, so that we don’t end up with a situation where one country will block and blackmail others. Therefore, several changes are needed that will facilitate our cooperation in an expanded Union,” warns Bartłomiej Balcerzyk.

The main treaty changes, provided for in the AFCO report and adopted by the EP, include the abandonment of the unanimity rule in Council of the EU voting in 65 areas and the shifting of two areas – environmental protection and biodiversity – from the level of member states to the exclusive competence of the EU. This proposal also envisages a significant expansion of shared competences in seven areas: foreign and security policy, border protection, public health, civil protection, industry and education.

After the EP vote on changes to the EU treaties, PiS MEP Beata Szydło commented that these will deprive member states of their veto rights and the right to defend their own interests. According to PiS politicians, the reforms will also mean the elimination of nation-states, depriving them of their sovereignty in favor of decisions made by Brussels.

“Some of the EP’s proposals related to fiscal policy or energy transition are difficult for Poland. The question is whether it is better to stay in this discussion and work out some common solutions, or get offended and not participate in it at all. It seems to me that Poland should take such a path as to seek compromises since there are some other solutions that are very beneficial for us,” says Bartłomiej Balcerzyk. “The elements of changes in the functioning of the EU, which would be extremely important for Poland, include everything related to the energy union, independence from fossil fuels and their supply from Russia. Another important element also concerns security issues. Poland, as a country bordering Russia and Belarus, is vitally interested in the EU being an even greater stabilizing and security-providing factor.”

Supporters of the changes point to the need for further integration and closer cooperation within the EU so that it can more effectively make decisions – without risking them being blocked and blackmailed by one country – and act more effectively on the international stage. Some experts also point out that the content of treaties is not immutable and this instrument should be constantly adapted to current challenges.

“Formal treaty change is a very long and tedious road, but there are also other opportunities to make some changes in the functioning of the EU somewhat more quickly,” the expert says. “There is a procedural possibility that allows member states in the Council to unanimously determine that the unanimity requirement is waived in a given area of common policy. And if member states take this approach, we could, without treaty changes, waive unanimity in some policy areas – these could be, for example, international policy or security matters – making the EU a little more flexible.”

Among other proposals in the AFCO report were also changes in the European Commission, which would receive a new name: the European Executive Body, and its composition would be reduced to 15 people, which means that not every member state would have its representative in the EC. Proposed changes in this area also include changing the current procedure for electing the President of the Commission and the possibility of introducing a vote of no confidence against individual commissioners. Another proposal concerns simplifying the procedure for suspending membership rights of those countries that violate European values, such as the rule of law, democracy or human rights, introducing the euro as the obligatory currency for all member countries or holding referendums throughout the Union on major issues (for example, supporting the aforementioned reform proposals).

According to the Spanish presidency’s announcement, the AFCO report was to be discussed during the Council of Ministers for European Affairs on December 12th and will later be forwarded to the European Council. However, it is unlikely to be discussed at the December summit of EU heads of state and government scheduled for December 14-15. The summit is due to make decisions on matters such as revision of the EU budget and potential launch of accession negotiations with Ukraine. Hungary has announced its veto on this issue.

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