As published on euractiv.com, Monday 29 August, 2022.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a watershed moment likely to change the European Union in significant ways: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he wants a more geopolitical Union, significant enlargement of the bloc and deep reforms of its institutions.
In an over 50-minute speech at Prague’s Charles University on Monday (29 August), almost five years after Emmanuel Macron’s Sorbonne speech that laid out his grand EU agenda, Scholz presented his ideas on how Europe and the EU should respond to the changing political environment following Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
“Even the European treaties aren’t set in stone,” the German Chancellor stated, adding that “European rules can be changed – in very short order if need be.” This, he recognised, would, of course, require a European consensus.
“If together we come to the conclusion that the Treaties need to be amended so that Europe makes progress, then we should do that,” he said, confirming that a treaty change might be on the cards.
Scholz also said he aims to seize the momentum generated by the EU’s direct democracy experiment, the Conference on the Future of Europe, whose outcome showed that “the public wants an EU that delivers”.
In concrete terms, Scholz said he was firmly “committed to enlargement” with Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia – but also to Ukraine, Moldova and “down the line also Georgia”.
“An EU with 30 or 36 member states will look different than today’s Union,” Scholz highlighted, adding that Europe was moving “eastward.”
He also reaffirmed tying enlargement to reforms. In previous enlargement rounds, “reforms in the accession countries went hand in hand with institutional reforms within the European Union. That will also be the case this time around,” he explained.
Further, Scholz proposed doing away with unanimity and the one-policy one-commissioner norm: a task he urged must be balanced with ensuring that the European Parliament does not become too bloated.
“I could imagine, for example, starting with majority voting in areas in which it is particularly important that we speak with one voice,” Scholz said, citing sanctions policy and issues relating to human rights as examples.
This could open the door to condemning China’s human rights violations in the Xinjiang province without the assent of Berlin, something German businesses are wary of.
Moving towards majority voting in the Council in areas like foreign and tax policy could “also have repercussions for Germany,” Scholz said.
“The European Parliament will not be able to shy away from reforms either,” explained Scholz.
The treaties’ upper limit of 751 EU parliamentarians was in place “for good reason,” a number that would be exceeded if new EU members join. Thus, the parliament would need a “new balance” while respecting the “democratic principle according to which each electoral vote carries roughly the same weight,” something that is not respected today.
Scholz’s push to reform the parliament meshes with the parliament’s plan to improve itself by introducing European voting lists remains unclear.
“Last but not least,” Scholz wants to change how the Commission works. “A Commission with 30 or 36 Commissioners would reach the limits of its ability to function,” he noted.
Yet, Scholz is aware of how crucial equal representation of every single EU state in the Commission is. Instead, it may be time for Commissioners to begin doubling up on policy fields, he suggested.
“What’s wrong with having two Commissioners who are jointly responsible for one and the same Directorate-General?”