MEPs have taken the lead in rethinking how the EU should adapt to meet today’s challenges such as migration, the economy and security.
The need for change
However, the process never ends. In recent years there have been increasing calls for another institutional reform in response to developments such as the digital economy, climate change, migration and terrorism . These are challenges on a global level which require an international approach. Reforming the EU could make the institutions more flexible and able to respond quicker while facilitating cooperation between member states In addition Brexit - the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU - has stressed the need to relaunch the EU in order to make it more democratic and more relevant to people.
An additional reason for reflecting on the future is the EU’s 60th anniversary this year, or more specifically 60 years since the Treaties of Rome. This is not only an occasion to look back at past achievements, but also to look ahead to future challenges.
MEPs started their reflection on how the EU should adapt at the beginning of the year, followed by the European Commission.
What the European Parliament proposes
On 16 February 2017 MEPs adopted three reports setting out how they believe the EU needs to be reformed in order to boost its capacity to act, restore people’s trust and make the economy more resilient.
The report by Mercedes Bresso (S&D, Italy) and Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany) looks at what improvements are already possible using the existing system. Proposals include:
- The Council of Ministers should be turned into a genuine second legislative chamber, and its configurations into preparatory bodies similar to Parliament’s committees
- Each member state should present at least three candidates, including both genders, for the role of “its” Commissioner
- The Council should switch completely to qualified majority voting, wherever this is possible under the treaties, to avoid blocking important draft laws and speed up the legislative process, and
- A permanent Council of Defence Ministers should be set up to coordinate the member states’ defence policies
The report by Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) considers what treaty changes might be needed for additional reforms. In it MEPs:
- suggest creating an EU finance minister and giving the EU Commission the power to formulate and give effect to a common EU economic policy, backed up by a euro-area budget,
- reiterate that the European Parliament should have a single seat,
- propose reducing the size of the College of EU Commissioners substantially, including by cutting the number of Vice-Presidents to two, and
- state their belief in allowing EU citizens in each member state to vote directly on the European political parties’ lead candidates for Commission President
The report by Reimer Böge (EPP, Germany) and Pervenche Berès (S&D, France) sets out how to bring the economies of countries that have adopted the euro closer together and make them more resilient. Proposals include:
- A fiscal capacity consisting of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and specific additional budgetary capacity for the euro area, funded by its members as a part of the EU budget
- A European Monetary Fund (which should gradually develop out of the ESM) with adequate lending and borrowing capacities and a clearly-defined mandate to absorb economic shocks
- A convergence code: five years to meet convergence criteria on taxation, labour market, investment, productivity, and social cohesion
- Governance: a bigger role for the European Parliament and national parliaments, merging the functions of Eurogroup President and economic and monetary affairs Commissioner, plus a finance minister and treasury within the European Commission
European Commission reflection papers
On 1 March the Commission published a white paper on the future of the EU, outlining five possible scenarios:
- Sticking with current policies
- Focussing on the single market and removing barriers to trade
- Allowing EU countries to integrate at different levels so that those who want to progress in a certain area can do so without having to wait for others.
- Selecting a limited number of areas for further integration but do less in other policy fields
- Integrating more across most policy areas
MEPs discussed the white paper in Parliament with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
In addition the Commission published five reflection papers this year as a starting point for a debate on the future of European integration. Each paper is dedicated to a specific theme: Europe’s social dimension, globalisation, the economic and monetary union, defence and finances. The papers contain ideas and scenarios for what Europe could be like in 2025, but no specific proposals. The initiative finished on 13 September when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his annual state of the union address. These reflection papers have been discussed by MEPs during plenary sessions.