Unanimous support among all European Union member states should no longer be required for decisions on taxation and foreign policy, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a speech to the parliament in Strasbourg given to mark the achievement of peace and postwar co-operation in Europe.
The social democrat argued that the 27-member union should rapidly conclude international trade deals including with Mercosur (the South American trading bloc), and should be expanded and reformed to smooth its decision-making processes and give it greater clout in a multipolar world of rising international powers such as China and India. “Europe will only be heard if it speaks with one voice,” he told members of the European Parliament in the Europe Day speech.
He thanked the lawmakers for their “broad support” for the removal of national vetoes for EU decisions on taxation and foreign policy, which would allow the bloc to act if only a qualified majority is in favour, meaning a minimum of 55 per cent of member states representing at least 65 per cent of the EU population.
The need for such a reform is “obvious”, he said. “We have to take more council decisions through qualified majorities, in foreign policy and on taxation. I will continue my campaign of persuasion to this end.”
Such a step would remove the ability of a single member state to block joint EU action, an idea that has become more popular due to the repeated veto wielded by Hungary on wide-ranging matters from taxation to sanctions on Russia. Ireland has traditionally had reservations about scrapping the veto because of the prospect of being outvoted in policy matters such as taxation.
Last week Germany led a group of like-minded member states in a public call for a move to qualified majority voting in matters of common foreign and security policy. In a joint statement Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia, and Spain declared that the step would “improve effectiveness and speed of our foreign-policy decision-making”.
Mr Scholz, who succeeded Angela Merkel as Germany’s leader in late 2021 at the helm of a coalition uniting the centre-left, pro-business liberals and the greens, also told the parliament that the EU needed to rapidly conclude trade deals. Signing agreements with Mercosur, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Australia, Kenya and others was essential for the EU to retain its global influence in shaping norms and not to lose credibility as agreements stall.
“If we fruitlessly continue negotiating new free trade agreements for years then others will come to set the rules – with lower environmental and social standards,” he said.
The EU’s unified response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should form the basis for a new “geopolitical Europe”, he continued, that would have a cohesive foreign policy.
Closer co-operation between the EU and Nato, strategic defence planning, and joint procurement of ammunition for Ukraine were all “sound approaches that we wish to intensify and accelerate”, Mr Scholz said. “The European Union has rarely been more united than in the face of this despicable breach of the European and international peace order. This experience can form the bedrock on which we found a geopolitical Europe.”