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It’s time for more majority decision-making in EU foreign policy

It’s time for more majority decision-making in EU foreign policy

by host

Annalena Baerbock is the federal minister for foreign affairs of Germany. Hadja Lahbib is the minister of foreign affairs, European affairs and foreign trade, and the federal cultural institutions of Belgium. Jean Asselborn is the minister for foreign and European affairs of Luxemburg. Wopke Hoekstra is the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands. Bogdan Aurescu is the minister of foreign affairs of Romania. Tanja Fajon is the minister of foreign and European affairs of Slovenia. José Manuel Albares Bueno is the minister for foreign affairs of Spain.

In the face of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the European Union has proven its ability to act. It has done so by standing by Ukraine diplomatically, financially and militarily; by cutting its energy dependence on Russia; and by offering Ukraine, as well as the Republic of Moldova, a clear EU membership perspective.

As we look to the future, this ability to take swift and resolute action will remain key for the EU’s role as a foreign policy actor ready and willing to uphold its citizens’ values and interests in an increasingly uncertain global arena.

We need an EU that produces solid, tangible results. As recent developments have shown, we also need to enhance our capacity to deliver in times of crisis — now more than ever. And as the EU enlarges, successful European integration requires its institutions to function effectively.

In the past, however, such swift and resolute EU action was not always a given. The vast majority of decisions in EU foreign policy require unanimity — which, in some cases, can slow down our ability to act. It is despite, and not because of, these rules that we were able to agree on 10 sanctions packages against Russia in response to its war of aggression against a sovereign state.

This is why we are advocating for greater use of qualified majority voting (QMV) in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), as currently set forth in the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

We want to move beyond old dividing lines between those in favor of more majority decision-making and those opposed to it. We are not advocating for treaty changes, nor do we envision drawn out academic debate. While the discussion around a more efficient CFSP is part of a wider debate on QMV in other policy areas, what we currently propose is a pragmatic approach — one focusing only on questions of EU Foreign and Security Policy and utilizing provisions already built into the TEU in a more flexible way that can work for everyone.

First, we suggest greater use of “constructive abstentions” as set out in Article 31 (1) TEU. Member states have already started using this simple but highly effective option, which still allows a decision to pass — namely, by not objecting to it, and thus not stopping the other 26 members from moving forward.

We saw just how effective “constructive abstentions” can be last October, when the Foreign Affairs Council voted on the new EU training mission for the Ukrainian military. We want to build on this emerging trend — and we commit ourselves to systematically scrutinizing our own positions with a view to switching from a vote against to a constructive abstention.

Second, we are proposing QMV be put to a practical test. Certain EU foreign policy areas already allow for decision-making by qualified majority, based on article 31 (2) TEU. If, for example, the Council has unanimously decided to set up a civilian EU mission, the operative terms of that mission could then be decided by QMV. We could similarly apply QMV when deciding on the basis of common EU positions in international human rights forums.

Moreover, we suggest adapting the way we take decisions in areas that do not require formal voting but consensus applies in practice, nonetheless. When the High Representative makes a public statement on behalf of the EU, for instance, the text could be agreed in a Council implementing decision by qualified majority, in accordance with article 31 (2) TEU. This would speed up the way we communicate and make our European voice stronger.

Third, we seek to build bridges or — in EU lingo — passerelles. Via the passerelle clause in article 31 (3) TEU, the Council can already decide — unanimously — to make decisions by qualified majority the standard procedure in particular foreign policy fields. We suggest exploring this “bridge” in well-defined areas within the CFSP as well.

We understand that some EU partners have concerns about using QMV in EU foreign policy — and we take these concerns seriously.

To us, seeking consensus is, and shall remain, at the heart of our European DNA because seeing the world from different angles and being open to constructive compromise is an asset. Thus, we will do our utmost to accommodate the concerns of all EU member states, to ensure the adoption of the best possible decisions for our collective interests. We will work toward further strengthening cooperation in a spirit of mutual trust within the EU.

Obviously, member states may invoke the emergency brake provided for in article 31 (2) TEU for vital and stated reasons of national policy. Moreover, we will work on a “safety net” mechanism, in addition to the existing emergency brake, which will seek to ensure that vital national interests will continue to be respected in areas of the CFSP where majority voting is expanded through the passerelle. And we will seek advice from independent experts to sound out ideas on this and other questions.

In these trying times, we are standing up for an EU that is a capable, effective and decisive actor, protecting the freedom, security and prosperity of its citizens. The EU has always managed to move ahead in challenging moments. Now, once again, it is time to act.

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