Veto rights

European leaders lukewarm about EU’s simple majority foreign policy

Belgien: Europäische Kommission, Brüssel
Every one of those flags has to say yes or it's no deal. Source: Picture Alliance

An attempt to eliminate a rule that requires an absolute majority for European Union foreign policy decisions is likely to fail, a Handelsblatt survey shows. Belgium is the only country to support the idea while Poland, Greece, Latvia and Ireland have expressed doubt or outright opposition to the proposal.

“If 28 countries always have to come to a common position first, the problem is already over before a decision has even been taken,” Elmar Brok, a conservative German member of the European Parliament, said.

The absolute majority requirement has sometimes hamstrung the EU in showing a united face abroad. For example, in 2017, Greece was able to quash an EU complaint to the United Nations over human rights abuses in China.

May could be too late

“Majority decisions protect us from other powers buying out just one member state in order to block everything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Germany and France hatched the idea in Meseberg in June and linked up with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who wants to lower the bar by the end of his tenure next year. It would have to be decided on at a special EU summit in May in Sibiu, Romania, an EC spokeswoman said.

Mr. Juncker thinks the EU acts too slowly and inefficiently in foreign policy. It’s something Europeans can no longer afford, especially since the US unilaterally terminated the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate protection agreement.

But there are even reservations within the EC itself. EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Federica Mogherini is said to be against the idea, which is startling as it pits her, the vice president of the body, against her boss, Mr. Juncker.

Bigger powers

“We need to improve our ability to speak with one voice in our foreign policy,” Mr. Juncker said in his annual state of the EU speech in Strasbourg in September.

Issues include China growing ever more confident and pressing in on the EU with its gigantic silk road project in the Balkans, as well as the EU’s lack of influence on Syria.

Mr. Juncker is focusing on three areas – human rights issues, sanctions against other countries and joint European military missions. But the idea from Meseberg goes one step further to create a “European Security Council” that can take rapid decisions in the face of a crisis.

For many members states, however, unanimity is “very important” for central foreign policy decisions, said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. He fears that otherwise he will be outvoted by large EU states.

An absolute majority for the simple majority

Mr. Coveney pointed out that Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Austria are neutral, do not belong to NATO and therefore have to be “particularly careful” when making foreign policy and military decisions. Mr. Brok, the member of the European Parliament, admitted that a solution must be found for this situation.

Instead of majority voting, “other, better options should be considered,” a Polish government spokesman said. Latvia also isn’t convinced. Ironically, the plan itself requires an absolute majority to pass.

Eva Fischer and Ruth Berschens are Handelsblatt correspondents in Brussels. To contact the authors: fischer@handelsblatt.com, berschens@handelsblatt.com

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