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1st Feb 2023

Scholz wants majority voting for EU sanctions

  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz said the EU should open up to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans - but warned the risk of vetos and stalemate 'increases with each additional member state' (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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German chancellor Olaf Scholz called for voting by majority by EU countries on issues such as human rights and sanctions in a speech on Monday (29 August) that was expected to lay down his vision for Europe.

In the wide-ranging speech at Prague's Charles University, Scholz called for measures that he hopes would overcome divisions and stalemate in the 27-member union, which faces geo-political challenges from rivals like China and Russia.

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Scholz referred to the threat posed to the EU by Russia under its authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin, warning that "any disunity among us, any weakness, is grist to Putin's mill."

He said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a "wake-up call" for the EU to change the way it makes decisions.

"It is precisely this united Europe that is such anathema to Putin. Because it doesn't fit into his worldview, in which smaller countries are forced to submit to a handful of major European powers," the German chancellor said.

"We must close ranks, resolve old conflicts and find new solutions," he added.

Scholz argued that EU members should take more decisions by majority vote, rather than requiring unanimity on issues, which has in the past allowed individual member states to veto key decisions.

However, it is unlikely that smaller EU member states will agree to giving up having the power to influence — and even stop — key decisions.

Meanwhile, the EU has been regularly watering-down measures to make sure all governments are onboard with common decisions — making strong EU-level decisions less likely.

Scholz argued that the alternative to majority voting is a complicated system of opt-ins and opt-outs by member states which would weaken EU unity.

"We have to remember that swearing allegiance to the principle of unanimity only works for as long as the pressure to act is low," Scholz said, according to the AP news agency.

"Where unanimity is required today, the risk of an individual country using its veto and preventing all the others from forging ahead increases with each additional member state," Scholz added.

"I have therefore proposed a gradual transition to majority voting in common foreign policy, but also in other areas, such as tax policy — knowing full well that this would also have repercussions for Germany," he was quoted by Reuters.

"When, if not now, will we overcome the differences that have hobbled and divided us for years?," Scholz said.

Tension has been particularly high in recent years between the EU Commission and the governments of Hungary and Poland.

The EU executive and European courts argue that the two governments break EU rules and values, while the two nationalist governments deny wrongdoing and claim that the EU is merely blackmailing them on other policy areas, particularly on migration and gender issues.

Yes to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Western Balkans

Scholz argued that majority voting would make the EU more fit for future enlargement from 27 to more member states. He said the bloc should eventually include Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, as well as the Western balkan countries.

"Their EU accession is in our interest," Scholz said.

He also suggested each country should have a commissioner in the EU executive, as it has now, but commissioners should share responsibilities — as the EU is running out of policy areas to cover by the increasing number of commissioners.

Scholz also tacitly supported French president Emmanuel Macron's idea from May on a European Political Community, saying there is a need for more regular exchanges at the political level by EU governments.

However, Scholz said that the political community should not be an alternative to enlargement.

Opinion

Why majority voting on EU taxation is a bad idea

Harmonising tax rates would probably not mean harmonising all tax systems to low rates – such as those in Ireland, for instance, but much rather an increase of taxes across the continent.

Opinion

Unanimity under review, if new EU sanctions to work

Any new regime should focus on individual perpetrators, such as the prison guards and low-level administrators and officers - but it must also similarly allow the listing of individuals higher up in the command chain.

'No decision expected' for EU decision on unanimous decisions

Swedish minister for European affairs Hans Dahlgren told EUobserver no decision can be expected on majority vote next year. Mikuláš Bek, the Czech minister for European affairs, said enlargement and changes to the decision-making are politically interlinked.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

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