The Slovenia Times

Analysts do not see radical EU reform on horizon

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Ljubljana - Despite calls for ambitious EU reforms, or perhaps even changes to the EU's core treaties, which marked the conclusion of the Conference on the Future of Europe in recent days, Slovenian experts on international relations and the EU Boštjan Udovič and Sabina Lange do not expect any radical changes in the workings of the bloc.

The experts agree that it would be good to finally launch a debate on what are the key problems of the EU that have been discussed quietly for years but nothing has been done to resolve them.

"I'm also in favour of a debate on the EU treaties, but mainly to register what these problems are, and not with the expectation that we will actually change something," Udovič, an associate professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, told the STA.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but it seems to me that geographical enlargement with a stronger intergovernmental element, while at the same time strengthening the union's effectiveness and operability, is more likely than the creation of radically different institutional relationships within the EU," said Lange, who is also an associate professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences and a lecturer at the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA).

They agree that Covid-19 has had an effect on the course of the conference and its ambitious conclusions as it revealed countries' weaknesses and interdependence while also stressing the role of crisis management.

Udovič was a bit surprised that quite a few proposals at the conference were aimed at the EU's revitalisation, including by amending the treaties.

As most of the conference was already over before the war in Ukraine, proposals no longer sound as ambitious as they did during the conference, Lange noted.

One of the proposals that took shape during the year-long conference is an end to the unanimity principle in EU decision-making in areas such as taxation, social security, foreign policy and enlargement.

Another proposal was that the European Parliament be given the power to propose legislation and the EU would be given more powers in areas that have been so far largely national issues, such as health and defence.

The European Parliament, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron, president of France, the country currently at the helm of the EU, have urged changes to the treaties to pave the way for implementing these proposals. However, such changes would have to be endorsed by all 27 EU members.

A recent non-paper drawn up by 13 members, including Slovenia, shows that a diverse group of EU countries is wary when it comes to these reforms.

The reactions of both sides have been expected, the experts said with Lange noting that the non-paper is a signal that attempts to strengthen the roles of the Commission and Parliament have not gone by unnoticed. The 13 countries also signalled that potential reforms could not follow the logic of crisis management, but should be a well thought-out process.

The key issue for the EU at the moment is above all "the constant struggle between institutions and countries" and the rivalry between the old and new members, Udovič added.

He believes it would be best to eliminate these tensions and define which areas should be entirely up to the EU and which should remain entirely within the purview of member states. He thinks this would help boost the EU's efficiency but is not expecting any groundbreaking developments.

"If we could get to the point where we could even start discussing this, we might be able to improve some things in five years," he added.

Lange believes that the majority of the proposals can already be implemented within the framework of the current EU treaty relations and competences.

"On the one hand, we have the enthusiasm generated by the conference, which is being used in particular by the European Parliament and Commission, and, on the other hand, a geopolitical situation that calls for a greater role of the EU.

"What will be decisive is how member states or their governments assess the urgency of the EU's internal reforms in order to make the bloc more capable in the context of global politics," she said.

Further efforts to tackle the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and its economic impact will be crucial for shaping the political will of member states in this context, she added.


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