Monday, June 24, 2024

Does the EU Need Treaty Change?

Author: Stefan Lehne 

Affiliation: Visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe; Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs (2009-2011); General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union (2002-2008, director for the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia)

Organization/Publisher: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace  

Date/place: June 16, 2022 / Belgium

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 3032



Keywords: EU, Conference on the Future of Europe, European Parliament, Lisbon Treaty, ECR Group




The Conference on the Future of Europe concluded in May and the author illustrates the different views on whether the EU should perform reforms through treaty change or continue to rely on improvised responses to upcoming challenges. The European Parliament argues to carry out and apply the recommended new legislation through treaty changes,  and a constitutional convention similar to those in 2002-2003 should be integrated. On the other hand, the Council of Ministers wants to evade reform that would be hard to control. The European Commission stresses citizenspanels and the digital platform as ways for them to participate and deliberate on topics such as health, social policy, migration, and foreign policy. Various recommendations would necessitate modifications of the EU treaty. However, representatives of the European Conservatives and Reformists (the ECR Group) protested about a pro-EU bias, and walked out of the conference. 13 governments have published a letter opposing the ideas of change and arguing that the EU can achieve changes through the existing treaty. Another six countries followed with another letter in which they assert themselves as open to the idea of treaty changes. Thus, arriving at a solution will not be an easy task. Some EU leaders acknowledge that the Lisbon Treaty has its own flaws and sooner or later would have to be changed. However, the EU has been preoccupied with many crises and events, from the pandemic to the mass influx of refugees with the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The European Parliament (which advocates for changes) suggests inserting special clauses in the treaty to encourage the commission to act in emergencies. But skeptics doubt whether the political conditions are sufficient to justify changing the treaty; why risk failure when past crises were managed without changes. The author argues that it is feasible that changes through improvisation will remain the conventional method of EU development. Geopolitical challenges are bound to take place and it is dubious whether EU decision-makers will engage in an agreement on treaty reform. Nevertheless, modifying the treaties could aid the EU in confronting upcoming challenges. Even if a modest reform took place, it would encourage more alterations to the treaty. In an era defined by multiple crises, the EU will have to add and change policies caused by pressures of astute emergencies.


Critical Commentary: The author explains the stance that the three institutions in the Convention on the Future of Europe have towards changing the existing EU treaty. While the European Parliament strongly advocates for change, the Council of Ministers does not. The author focuses on the crises that the EU has gone through, from the economic crisis in 2008-2009 until the pandemic, and lastly the Russian aggression against Ukraine. All are events that have challenged Europes policies and have proved challenging. Advocates for treaty change have seen recommendations presented by the citizenspanel as an indication of a need for modification. While groups that oppose changes have argued that past challenges and events indicate that the EU can go on without a reform of the treaty. This, in the opinion of the author, is a controversial aspect of the conference. The author believes that an agreement among decision-makers on the issue of treaty change is not something that can be expected, and he argues that a modification of the treaty could risk creating an ideological division among those who support a federalist EU and those who defend national sovereignty.


By: Sara El Souhagy, CIGA Research Intern



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