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17th Feb 2020

Paris seeks reduction of national veto in EU

  • Paris' EU blueprint reflects internal French politics (Photo: EUobserver)

The French government has tabled fresh proposals to break the EU's constitutional deadlock, pleading for an end to national vetoes in justice and police cooperation and workers' protection rules.

Paris on Tuesday (25 April) submitted proposals to the Austrian EU presidency for a smoother-functioning EU on the basis of the union's existing treaties.

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"At this stage, the aim should be to seek improvement in the functioning of [the EU's] institutions on the basis of the framework provided by existing treaties," the French document reads.

But the improvements sought by Paris reflect ideas in the EU constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in referendums last year.

The document is in line with earlier French ideas to "cherry-pick" individual parts of the constitution, despite German and Spanish calls to revive the charter in its entirety.

At the core of Paris' proposals is the use of the so-called "passerelle" or "bridging" clauses in the current EU treaty, which allow to shift policy areas from unanimous decision-making to majority voting, effectively eliminating the national veto.

For any such shift from unanimity to majority-voting, a unanimous vote by member states is necessary first, which makes the plan difficult to implement.

Justice and social vetoes attacked

The main area where France wants to surpress the national veto is justice and home affairs, where the EU constitution also proposed more majority-voting.

"The application of [the passerelle] clause would thus enable European action to be made more effective in the area of internal security and justice...particularly for preventing and combating terrorism, organised crime and the phenomena on which the latter feeds (drugs, trafficking in human beings, etc)," according to the proposals.

The national veto should be equally eliminated in some social policy areas, opening the door for EU measures on workers' protection which appear to reflect France's recent mass protests against flexibilisation of lay-off rules.

"This would mean that [EU] acts could be adopted by a qualified majority...to lay down minimum requirements for the protection of workers where their employment contract is terminated...and for the representation and collective defence of the interests of workers and employers," the French text says.

Solana role, eurozone cooperation

The proposals also include ways to boost the union's capacity to act on the world stage, concentrating on an enhanced role for the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Mr Solana should in Paris' view get a reinforced mandate for crisis management and the representation of the union abroad, while holding regular meetings with the European commissioners for external relations, enlargement and development.

This should "ensure greater consistency between council and commission in conducting action and in external representation."

France also seeks "more effective coordination of economic policies in the euro zone," including in the area of taxation.

Picking up on another idea in the constitution, Paris further believes the involvement of national parliaments in the EU must be strengthened, through increased possibilities for national MPs to speak out against Brussels over-regulation.

Commission seminar

Paris' plan comes just ahead of a seminar by the European Commission on the future of the EU, which will take place in Lanaken outside Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The commissioners will meet at a location fenced off from the Brussels media with only closest aides present, in order to hammer out a paper on the EU constitution which is expected in May.

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