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France and Germany Back Four-Speed Europe

Franco-German experts unveiled a proposal for sweeping structural reforms to the European Union as pressure builds to bring in new member countries by the end of the decade.

The report, commissioned by the EU’s two biggest countries, aims to overhaul rules and prepare to govern in a union of 30 or more nations.

The authors envision an model EU in four concentric circles.

“1. The inner circle; 2. The EU; 3. Associate members; 4. The European Political Community [a loose association of European leaders that meet twice a year to talk],” they write.

EU ministers are discussing the paper on Wednesday, preparing the ground for an upcoming summit of national leaders in October where enlargement is expected to top the agenda.

“It’s clear that EU enlargement and EU reform go hand in hand. And we need to begin with this now,” Germany’s Europe Minister Anna Lührmann told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday morning.

The report by a group of 12 experts proposes radical reforms to streamline the EU’s structure, including cutting the number of commissioners and members of European Parliament, and scrapping national vetoes.

The study also examines several options on how to run a larger EU, including a bigger budget; linking EU payouts more strictly to rule-of-law conditions; and moving toward majority voting instead of unanimity in the European Council.

In a move that could prove controversial to France and Germany, the experts also propose to reapportion more voting weight in the Council to smaller EU countries in order to balance the loss of national vetoes.

Eight countries are currently candidates to join the EU, including Ukraine, Moldova and six Balkan nations. The European Parliament president in June backed serious negotiations for Ukraine’s EU accession to begin by December this year.

Lührmann expressed a preference to avoid changes to the EU’s treaties, a process that may take years and is unpopular among many EU leaders.

“I would wish to use this flexibility … [the passerelle clause] allows us to make changes in some areas without treaty changes, such as qualified majority decisions.” 

The academic Olivier Costa, director of political studies at the College of Europe and one of two co-rapporteurs on the paper, told POLITICO that the “last 30 years of history shows that those skeptical about the prospects of major EU reforms are always proven wrong.”

Source : Politico