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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Proposals to End a Member State’s National Veto in the EU

 MEP decries changes which would further centralise power in Brussels

Which EU Treaty change could transform the character of the European Union, by tipping it from a group of nations into the monolithic superstate of Eurosceptic nightmares?

Since November last year, proposals to remove the national veto have gathered momentum. The abolition of the veto right granted to all Member States by the voting rules of the European Council was proposed by the rapporteurs, four German MEPs led by–who else?–arch-federalist Belgian Guy Verhofstadt. If EU current democratic shortfalls are clear to see, the abolition of the national veto would make things far worse.

As it stands, an individual Member State can use its vote against the implementation of common foreign and security policy, and on matters of the multiannual financial framework. Unanimous voting is required to set policy in 34 areas where it currently applies: if agreement can’t be reached–often following enormous pressure and moral blackmail from the major EU players–decisions remain at the level of national competencies. A handful of exemptions in the proposal, such as for the admission of new Member States, do not disguise its overall centralizing drift.

In the EP, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) claims to have “engaged in good faith with representatives of the other five groups involved in the drafting of the proposals,” despite seeing the measures as hasty and unnecessary. For Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP,

The national veto is arguably the most important safeguard against undue usurpation of power in the hands of the Union, and is of particular importance to the smaller Member States and their national democracies whose influence would be greatly diminished.

In contrast, the EP rapporteurs are proposing to deprive Member States of this fundamental right. On paper at least, the right of veto provides the smaller and medium-sized countries to participate on equal footing in EU politics. Inequalities among the Member States–including the weight of their votes in the Council–can be levelled when the veto right is used.

Paradoxically, the key goal of EU enlargement–which would still require unanimous Council ratification–would become less attractive to candidate members who find that, on arrival, they would no longer have a veto.

Unpicking the proposals further shows other competencies that Member States would lose. Under the proposals, shared competences would include seven new areas such as public and reproductive health; education; foreign affairs, external security and defence; civil protection; industry; external border policy; and cross-border transport infrastructure. There’s even a new one, previously exercised by nation states, on the EU entering climate change negotiations.

Under the principle of subsidiarity, there is no reason for EU-wide intervention in these areas:

From Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union:

The procedure for Treaty change, Paragraph 2:

“These proposals may, inter alia, serve either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties.”

According to Saryusz-Wolski,

Abolishing veto in the medium-term perspective would lead to the dominance of the biggest Member States, and in the long run it would contribute to a disintegration of the EU. Thus, promoting such proposal is utterly anti-European, shows a grave error of judgement, and reflects lack of political imagination.

Supporters of the proposals may counter that currently EU decision-making is too slow and that the national veto is part of that problem. Critics, meanwhile, claim rightly that the Union’s inflexibility comes from it taking too much on, by hijacking policy in areas that could be dealt with much better at the national or local levels.


Read on: Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP (ECR Group) “Why we reject the Treaty change proposal”, first published 19 Dec 2023.