New Proposal on the Amendment of EU Treaties – What Does It Involve Exactly?
In the continuum of legal discourse spanning several decades, the perennial ambition of the European Parliament to augment its influence within the institutions of the European Union remains a recurring theme. The recently published Draft report on proposals of the European Parliament for the amendment of the Treaties makes it even clearer. The 120-page long document – which is signed by some well-known enemies of the Hungarian government rapporteurs like Guy Verhofstadt and Daniel Freund – wishes to reform the EU’s institutions and functioning.
Long (legal) story short: The EP has been written in every possible place to gain as much influence on the EU as possible. Among other things, it wishes to have the right of initiative for legislation, eliminate unanimity in the Council, and reform the Commissioner’s traditional selection (the Commission is composed of the College of Commissioners from the 27 EU countries), which is a beautiful expression of ensuring equal representation for every country and giving each country the right to have a citizen in the political leadership of the EU. Last but not least, eliminating the words “male” and “female” and making it obligatory for Member States to welcome every gender in their laws would also be a clear approach of the European Parliament. These issues are all packed into one long document with lots of other formal changes, to be hidden from EU citizens. Let’s check the main issues one by one in detail.
Gaining the Right of Initiative for Legislation
The EP has always been acting as the younger sibling of the Commission – striving to attain the same privileges. After the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the EP became involved in ordinary legislative procedures. However, this proposal advocates for Parliament to acquire the right of initiative for legislation, specifically the right to introduce, amend, or repeal Union law, and to become a co-legislator for the adoption of the multiannual financial framework.
The proposed changes indicate that the European Parliament aims to possess greater initiative powers akin to those of the European Commission. Allowing the EP to propose amendments on matters subject to the ordinary legislative procedure reflects a desire for a more active role in shaping legislation, aligning with the established legislative procedures outlined in TFEU Article 294.
Changing the Voting Mechanism in the Council
Gaining the right to propose would involve strengthening the power of the European Parliament, while simplifying the voting mechanism in the Council would represent a significant departure from the traditional voting system. The traditional mechanism has symbolised respect for national sovereignty and the safeguarding of minority interests in sensitive policy domains. Notably, the unanimity requirement, a tool that the European Parliament finds disagreeable and frustrating, has allowed countries like Hungary to exercise a veto on certain matters, as seen in past instances related to issues such as migration.
Regardless of the topic, the proposal eliminates the requirement of unanimity in the Council and would require much less consensus to make a decision. This introduces “qualified majority voting (QMV),” which requires only two-thirds “plus one” of the members of the Council representing at least 50% of the population. This would be a significant departure from unanimity and would imply less consideration for the will of smaller countries.
Eliminating the Words “Men” and “Women” while Establishing Minimum Rules on Gender (Creating New EU Criminal Offences):
The main sources of the treaties establishing the EU would no longer contain the words “male” and “female.” The EU – and Hungary as well – has long been proud of advocating for the equality of men and women. Now, according to the proposal, every mention of it would be replaced by the expression of <gender equality>. This might seem like an innocuous modification, yet the left-wing of the EP would have an even clearer reason to argue that the Hungarian legal system does not comply with the Treaties of the EU. This could mean the end of regulating family law issues at the level of Member States, and would attack the Hungarian Constitution which declares: the mother is a woman, the father is a man. The proposal not only suggests changing from men to women and vice versa but also implies that any gender identity could be legally obligatory to recognize – this is the way the EP aims to undermine the legal values of countries like Hungary, which even sought the Hungarians’ opinion through a referendum on gender issues. Since the Hungarian people strongly rejected gender ideology, the EP attempts to make this old approach act against the will of the Hungarians.
There are also minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension resulting from the nature or impact of such offences or from a special need to combat them on a common basis. These areas of crime were formerly crimes like terrorism, trafficking in human beings, and sexual exploitation of women and children, but now there is a possibility that gender-based violence would be added as well – because the proposal includes that as well.
Reshaping Judicial Cooperation in Civil – Family Law – Matters:
This currently entails the principle of mutual recognition of judgments and decisions in extrajudicial cases, acknowledging the sensitive nature and importance of family law. Measures concerning family law with cross-border implications are currently to be established by the Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, in which the Council shall act unanimously – after consulting the European Parliament.
However, due to the reform of the “constitution,” issues related to family law would be treated no differently than any other topic, and the EP aims to have even more impact on it. In the original text, the Council acted unanimously after consulting the European Parliament. The modification provides the European Parliament with a more direct role in the decision-making process.
The proposed modification eliminates the requirement to consult national Parliaments. In the original text, national Parliaments were notified, and if there was opposition within six months, the decision could not be adopted. This deletion signals a departure from involving national Parliaments in the decision-making process for these specific matters. The modification grants the European Parliament a more influential role in determining aspects of family law with cross-border implications.
The End of Commissioners from Each Country and Providing the EP the Right to Make a Commissioner Out of Its Office
Currently and traditionally, the government of each Member State nominates a commissioner. According to the proposal, the Commission would be renamed as the Executive, and The Executive shall consist of no more than 15 members, including its President, the Union Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the Union Secretary of Economic Governance. This means that at least 12 countries would in no way have a commissioner in the political leadership. Naively, it could be supposed that the members of the Executive would be chosen based on their merits. Still, according to the proposal, departing from the traditional strictly equal rotation between the Member States, the executives would be chosen reflecting the demographic and geographical range of the Member States. It means that more than possibly, we can say goodbye to having a Hungarian commissioner, and other smaller countries would face the same problem in our region.
The European Council has the right to propose to the European Parliament a candidate for the President of the Commission. Still, according to the proposal, the European Parliament would nominate the Spitzenkandidat. If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament can vote thereon. The new proposal would make it possible not only to have it against the whole Commission collectively but also to have a motion of individual censure on the activities of the Commissioner. Essentially, the EP could remove any Commissioner it does not like from its office.
In Summary, Can We Assume It as an Approach Against the Right-Wing Parties, Trying to Weaken the Sovereignty of the Member States?
There is no question about it. Gaby Bischoff (S&D), who was also a negotiator on EU Treaty change, says: ‘Finally, across Europe, we are witnessing the rise of right-wing nationalist parties, and they all have one thing in common: they want to undermine and undo the EU. By improving the Treaties, we can secure Europe’s future and deliver better results for European citizens.’ Thus, it is not assuming; it is a fact. Due to this proposal, the right-wing is facing a threat from the leftists who do not cease to force their ideas on the right-wing parties and countries – even if it is now dressed as a 120-pages-long document, which only makes some formal changes to the Lisbon Treaty.
Kinga Kincső Antal is a fifth-year law student at the Faculty of Law of ELTE University and the participant of the scholarship programme funded by Aurum Foundation. She has published legal studies and has also worked as a presenter and reporter for an online magazine. Additionally, she has been leading a student association that focuses on politics and is currently freelancing for Constitutional Discourse and Hungarian Conservative.