Hungarian Conservative

European Elections 2024: The EP Campaigns with a Treaty Change

The Plenary Hall of the European Parliament in 2021.
The plenary hall of the European Parliament.
Wikimedia Commons
The European Parliament’s new campaign proposal would not only end the foreign affairs veto by amending the EU treaties but would also give the EU more power in the area of the rule of law and migration. As part of that overreach attempt, it would also suspend Hungary’s right to hold the EU presidency.

The following is a translation of an article written by Bernadett Petri, a researcher at the Europe Strategy Research Institute of the Eötvös József Research Centre/University of Public Service, originally published on

The European Parliament’s new campaign proposal would not only end the foreign affairs veto by amending the EU treaties but would also give the EU more power in the area of the rule of law and migration. As part of that overreach attempt, it would also suspend Hungary’s right to hold the EU presidency.

After the summer recess, the European Parliament is off to a strong start as it turns its attention to next year’s EP election campaign. According to press reports, a proposal from the European Parliament would remove the right of a veto by the Member States under the treaties in dozens of areas, including defence, taxation, and foreign policy. As well as renaming the European Commission as the ‘European Executive’, the draft, which would amend the founding treaties, would dramatically expand the powers of the European Parliament, giving the EU institution what it has been after for so long: the right of initiative. In addition, the proposal would transfer exclusive competence for environmental and climate matters to the EU, what’s more, the related committee opinions also envisage a reform of the rule of law regulations, including the possibility of suspending Hungary’s EU presidency.

Cross-Party German Support Against the Foreign Affairs Veto

Although press speculation has suggested that this is a new EU proposal, in reality, the preparation of the own-initiative report, which has multi-party support, already started in early 2022. The report is the responsibility of the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs, and eleven other committees have also given their opinions on the document. In addition to the Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the report is, unsurprisingly, co-authored by three German MEPs, EPP MEP Sven Simon, Social Democrat MEP Gabriele Bischoff and Green MEP Daniel Freund. The rapporteur appointed by the European Conservatives, Polish Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, withdrew his support for the draft in August, saying that the proposal was a completely ill-considered and disproportionate shift towards highly centralized structures in decision-making outside democratic control.

The foreign affairs veto, which the European Parliament’s proposal seeks to abolish,

is the strictest limit to the delegation of powers by Member States and the main bastion of geopolitical interests and sovereignty.

The question of the establishment of a common foreign and security policy has been raised from time to time in the history of integration, but for a long time, Member States refused to incorporate this area into the framework of European cooperation to any extent. Following the clear failure of the early federalist plans, the need for coordination on foreign policy issues emerged in the 1970s with the establishment of the European Political Cooperation (EPC), and it is from this point on that we can talk about the foundations of foreign policy cooperation being laid. With the amendment of the founding treaties, the EU’s common foreign and security policy was gradually institutionalized. It therefore took three and a half decades after the signing of the Treaty of Rome for the European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) to be formally established as the second pillar of the EU with the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty, and the process was carried out always with due caution and according to a strict consensus decision-making system, requiring the approval of all Member States. It is no coincidence therefore that it came as a surprise when, in May this year, nine EU Member States, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Spain, supporting Germany, the most committed country on this issue, issued a statement in favour of the intention to abolish the foreign affairs veto.

There are several legal ways to downgrade the consent procedure to qualified majority voting. The most basic of these options, but also the most difficult, is the one envisaged in the report: the unanimous amendment of the founding treaties. However, there are many obstacles to amending the treaties. A simple majority of 14 out of 27 Member States is needed to start negotiations on it, and a legally binding agreement requires the compliance of all EU countries. In addition, the referendums required for ratification also carry significant risks for the outcome of the process, as in the case of the referendums in the Netherlands and France in 2005 that led to the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty.

Right of Initiative for the European Parliament

However, the objectives of the amendment of the EU treaties include not only the abolition of the foreign affairs veto but also the European Parliament’s power to initiate legislative procedures on an equal footing with the Commission. The Parliament has long been determined to extend its powers as far as possible.

The right of initiative is the supreme power in the EU institutional system

—according to the treaties, the European Commission alone has the power of legislative initiative.

In several reports, the European Parliament has criticized the Commission for being neither constructive nor effective in EU lawmaking over the past decades and has denounced the failure of successive Commission presidencies to take political responsibility for the impact of EU standards. According to the EP, the only way out of this unfavourable situation would be, of course, to allow the Parliament to initiate EU legislation following the revision of the treaties—and in no other area to start with but the rule of law.

New Rule of Law Sanctions and Mandatory Migration Quota

It is no coincidence that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has attached a commentary to the constitutional report on the prospect of treaty change that focuses on Article 7 procedures. This document points out that Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) has so far proven ineffective in addressing and preventing systemic threats and violations of the rule of law, as the rule of law situation has further deteriorated since the initiating of the procedures against Poland and Hungary, thus the instrument needs to be reformed as soon as possible: the voting threshold for the rule of law procedures should be changed from a four-fifths majority to a qualified majority, and the unanimity requirement in Article 7 (2) TEU should be deleted. In addition, rule of law investigations lasting at least five years should be turned into a sanction procedure by the EP and the Commission after five years without the consent of the Member States.

According to the LIBE proposal, sanctions could include not only the suspension of Council voting rights, but also the right to hold the EU’s rotating presidency. Migration is also on the Parliament’s wish list, with the EP including new solidarity provisions in the EU founding treaties as a legal basis for the mandatory distribution of migrants.

Is the Hungarian EU Presidency a Campaign Issue?

Commenting on the package, an EU diplomat requesting anonymity pointed out that the European Parliament’s proposal is unrealistic, as it is unlikely to ever win the support of European governments. ‘This is a provocation…There is no majority support in the Council for a treaty amendment,’ the source said.

However, the initiative makes it clear that the European Parliament has not backed down from its intention to demand more EU powers in the area of migration and the rule of law, and to block Hungary’s EU presidency next year by invoking EU values. In its resolution at the end of May, the EP said it was questionable whether Hungary could credibly fulfil its 2024 rotating presidency and asked the Council to find an appropriate solution as soon as possible. With this decision, for the first time, an EU institution has called into question the EU presidency of a Member State, completely ignoring the fact that

the rotating presidency is not a right but an obligation for all Member States.

In recent months, we have not heard about the EP’s intentions in this regard, but the new parliamentary proposal, which is mainly a political gimmick, suggests that the attack on the Hungarian EU presidency will also be in the crosshairs of the treaty amendment during the EP election campaign. The question is, however, whether this campaign will be successful and whether in 2024 voters will let EU institutions get away with risking the EU’s true values: trust and loyal cooperation, as well as the rule of law, which is binding on the institutions, too.

Related articles:

Political Attacks on the Hungarian and Polish EU Presidencies Continue
2023 Rule of Law Report on Hungary: a ‘Brussels Cookbook’ of Narratives

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The European Parliament’s new campaign proposal would not only end the foreign affairs veto by amending the EU treaties but would also give the EU more power in the area of the rule of law and migration. As part of that overreach attempt, it would also suspend Hungary’s right to hold the EU presidency.