Emmanuel Macron said national divisions during the Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted the need to ‘strengthen’ the powers of the EU, opening a consultation on the future of Europe at an event which was almost canceled due to internal feuds.
Speaking from a television studio set up in the middle of the European Parliament’s hemicycle in Strasbourg, the French president said he hoped the Future of Europe conference, a continuing series of events and polls online opinion, would strengthen decision-making at EU level. .
Macron avoided mentioning the treaty change to transfer powers from national governments to European institutions, to which a large number of member state governments could be forced to call referendums in response.
Rather, he spoke in general terms of the difficulties encountered during the pandemic in coordinating efforts due to the lack of central powers in the field of health and the problem of decision making “strangled in our procedures”. The most common form of EU decision-making, including on foreign policy, is through a supporting “qualified majority” among the 27 member states.
“We were divided at the beginning, for a while, when it came to buying masks or closing our borders sometimes, even for the takeover [fund]Macron said. “The European Central Bank has risen to the task and suspended the budgetary and competition rules which have allowed us to assert our desire to revive the economy, but in many areas the European Union has failed. not the same skill or will, and sometimes he really doesn’t have much to do in the health field and still does today.
“This weakness explained the coordination difficulties,” Macron said. “Therefore, we must learn the lessons from this major shock of the pandemic; we must strengthen our common capacity because it is at European level that we will provide the appropriate response.
“And finally, we have often observed that Europe was not moving fast enough, lacking ambition,” he added. “Our European democracy is one of compromise to find a balance, and it is something that we must protect like a treasure, because it avoids any hegemony. It is also a weakness when we are strangled in our own procedures… We must find an effective path with the ambition to overcome crises and avoid not taking decisions.
Macron said the conference on the future of Europe, first proposed three years ago, was an opportunity to decide what the EU would like in 10 to 15 years.
He had, however, risked making the worst possible start due to a row between those who wanted to keep final decisions on reforms in a small executive council and the demand expressed by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative in the forum, for a plenary session involving MEPs, citizens and government ministers, to have more say.
The row, which had threatened to end in a humiliating cancellation of the launch, is a symptom of the division between those who want the process to lead to the first change to the EU’s founding treaties since the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 and those who intend to thwart something so drastic.
Before its launch – which took place on the occasion of Europe Day celebrating Robert Schuman’s proposal to pool German and French steel and coal 71 years ago – a text circulated by 12 countries called for commitments to “preserve the interinstitutional balance, including the distribution of powers”. “It should not create legal obligations, or duplicate or interfere unduly with established legislative processes,” the note said.
The compromise reached will involve the regular plenary assembly made up of 433 participants, including 108 MEPs and 108 national parliamentarians, as well as representatives of the European Commission and governments, who will provide their input and approve a final report from the executive council next spring. The issues to be discussed will be determined by citizen panels and contributions collected from an online bulletin board.
In a sign of an upcoming inter-institutional debate, David Sassoli, the speaker of the European Parliament, a role similar to that of the British Speaker of the House of Commons, said he hoped the process would lead to increased powers for the chamber directly elected, including that of initiating legislation, a role monopolized by the European Commission.