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Conference on the Future of Europe: Don’t mention the T word


With a few notable exceptions, people in Brussels don’t want to talk about treaty change.

On Wednesday, the European Commission will set out its vision of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is aimed at remodeling the EU. The radical set of proposals includes changing the way the president of the Commission is elected and allowing transnational candidate lists in European elections.

Most of these proposals would need changes to the EU treaties, which requires a unanimous vote among EU countries. But according to the latest draft of the Commission’s vision for the conference, an initial mention of “proposals for treaty change” has been taken out, prompting some in the European Parliament to ask if the Commission is trying to please EU countries, which have shown reluctance to treaty change.

“The Commission completely ignores the institutional dimension of the Conference on the Future of Europe,” said Gabriele Bischoff, a German Socialist MEP and member of the Parliament’s Working Group on the Conference on the Future of Europe. “It is quite unclear how the Commission envisages the outcome of the conference and the next steps to take in order to turn them into concrete proposals, including legislative initiatives or possible treaty changes.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made the conference one of her priorities and pledged to follow up on discussions, “including with legislative action and proposals for treaty change if appropriate,” she wrote in the political guidelines for her presidency.

The Commission’s vision, seen by POLITICO, takes up many of the Parliament’s ideas but doesn’t go into the same level of detail on governance.

The Parliament was the first EU institution to set out its ideas for the conference, backing an ambitious resolution which “commits itself to a genuine follow-up of the Conference without delay, with legislative proposals, initiating treaty change or otherwise,” and “calls on the other two institutions to make the same commitment.”

The assembly also called for several bodies to be set up as part of the project, including a “Conference Plenary,” a “steering committee,” and an “executive board” — and picked Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and current liberal MEP, to lead the process.

The Commission’s vision, seen by POLITICO, takes up many of the Parliament’s ideas but doesn’t go into the same level of detail on governance. It doesn’t mention personnel or treaty change.

While the draft still needs to be rubber-stamped by the College of Commissioners before its official release on Wednesday, Commission officials said the removal of the words “treaty change” doesn’t indicate the institution’s opposition to the idea.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa is one of the European leaders who isn’t keen on changing EU treaties | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Moreover, they said it indicates that the Commission believes it is up to citizens who will participate in the conference to decide whether or not they want treaties to be changed. Von der Leyen’s position on the issue is “still relevant,” one Commission official told POLITICO.

But some suspect behind-closed doors pressure from the Council, including countries like the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden, which have shown little enthusiasm for any change of EU treaties.

In December, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa tweeted that he would call on European institutions and countries to “make use of the large untapped potential of the Treaty to develop policies that respond to the legitimate expectations of our citizens, rather than embarking on sterile institutional reforms.”

That stance was reflected in a document on the conference issued by the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU ahead of its discussion on the issue at a meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday.

The text, seen by POLITICO, is only a basis for discussion and welcomes the idea of a “unique and inclusive platform bringing together different voices engaging in a wide reflection and debate on the challenges Europe is facing.” But it doesn’t say a word on treaty change, and even appears to play down the importance of the Parliament in spearheading the process.

The Council document says the organization of the conference should involve “shared ownership” by EU institutions, “equality between the institutions at all levels.” It also calls for “respect for each institution’s prerogatives,” and “effectiveness and avoidance of unnecessary bureaucracy.”

“The majority of member states would prefer a leaner and more streamlined governance,” the document says.

Ivo Oliveira and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.



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