The resistance of the little ones

The Duden defines the term optimism as a “confident attitude towards something determined by positive expectations”. Whether and how much this positive expectation has anything to do with reality is sometimes a different question. This gap could be observed very clearly in Brussels on Tuesday.

The “issue” discussed at a meeting of high-ranking representatives from EU member states was quite important – a possible reform that weakens the principle that the European Union must make all decisions by consensus in the common foreign and security policy . This rule applies, for example, when the EU wants to impose sanctions on another country such as Iran or Russia. Instead of unanimity, according to the ideas of some states, including Germany, it should also be possible in certain cases to make such decisions with a so-called qualified majority. Roughly speaking, that corresponds to a two-thirds majority among the states.

The aim: when time is of the essence in a crisis, the EU should be able to act quickly and not lose itself in a tough search for consensus. And: it should no longer be so easy for individual countries to block decisions by the entire EU.

Hungary is behaving like a “traitor,” diplomats complain

In the recent past, Hungary in particular has been a nuisance in this respect. For example, the government in Budapest vetoed the EU’s joint call for the appointment of a UN special rapporteur on Russian human rights violations. Hungary is also threatening not to renew EU sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine unless some oligarchs are exempted. This rebelliousness angers the rest of the EU — Hungary is behaving like a “traitor,” some diplomats complain.

In this respect, one could have assumed that Hungary would face a broad front of EU states at the meeting on Tuesday that want to weaken the unanimity principle. Apparently, the German representative went to the meeting with this expectation – at least that’s what she said. “I’m pretty optimistic that we can make progress on the subject of majority decisions,” said Anna Lührmann, Green politician and Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office. That was before the talks.

After the talks, however, the Czech Minister for Europe, Mikuláš Bek, described the situation as it really is. The debate on the subject is not in vain, he said. But as for results? “I’m not too optimistic about that,” said Bek. The Czech, whose country will hold the EU Council Presidency until the end of the year, promised to try to find a solution to the problem. Perhaps some “limited progress” is possible.

The right of veto is important to the small member states – otherwise nobody would listen to them

The statements made by other government representatives also show that it will not be easy to restrict unanimity. The resistance of the Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga was not really surprising in this respect, what was remarkable was her reasoning: Hungary wanted to “return to the spirit of cooperation in the EU,” said Varga.

But other EU countries that do not have the political and economic weight of Germany were also skeptical. The right of veto is a guarantee for small European countries that they cannot be overruled by a coalition of the big ones – that they must at least be asked for their opinion. Europe would still have to decide unanimously on sanctions, warned the Austrian Chancellor’s Minister for EU Affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, on Tuesday. And Irish State Secretary Thomas Byrne said, somewhat annoyed, that his country had other concerns at the moment. “We have to see how we heat the homes this winter,” he said.

There are also legal problems with the planned reform. In order to generally switch to majority decisions in foreign policy , the EU treaties would have to be changed – a titanic task that nobody wants to tackle seriously. Alternatively, the states could decide ad hoc and on a case-by-case basis that a qualified majority is sufficient for the respective decision. However, they can only grant this permission by consensus, which does not fundamentally solve the veto problem.

Despite all these hurdles, the issue is probably not settled. On the one hand, because Germany will continue to push. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) declared a change in the unanimity principle to be an important project in a keynote address on Europe that he recently gave in Prague . So Berlin is putting pressure on from the highest level.

And on the other hand, the issue of majority decisions is closely linked to the issue of EU enlargement. Eastern European states in particular, which want to retain unanimity, are also demanding the admission of further members from their region, above all Ukraine. And whether that is possible if all 27 countries have to agree is an open question; as well as whether the Union would not be permanently paralyzed in terms of foreign policy if 30 or more members had to find a consensus before every decision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You might like