European Parliament favors axing unanimity on some foreign policy decisions

MEP Urmas Paet (Reform).
MEP Urmas Paet (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Earlier this week, the European Parliament adopted a report drawn up by Estonian MEP Urmas Paet (Reform/Renew), vice-chair of the Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), on the strengthening of EU foreign policy which, among other things, recommends waiving unanimity requirements when making certain foreign policy decisions.

"The European Parliament recommends that the Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy increase the leverage and the effectiveness of the EU's foreign policy by ensuring the full use of [qualified majority voting] for certain policy areas, such as human rights and the protection of international law, and for the imposition of sanctions," states the report adopted Wednesday.

The report noted that this should be with the exception of — i.e. that the requirement of unanimity must be preserved in connection with — decisions creating and deploying military missions or operations with an executive mandate under the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), in accordance with the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

It also stressed, however, that even under qualified majority voting, the aim should still be to reach the broadest possible consensus and, if possible, unanimity.

"Qualified majority voting (QMV) should be introduced for EU foreign policy decision-making where the focus is on human rights, the protection of international law and the implementation of sanctions," Paet said. "This is necessary to ensure that one country cannot block the entire EU's response, as has unfortunately repeatedly happened recently."

The report states that the partial introduction of QMV would help increase the leverage and the effectiveness of the EU's foreign policy and make full and more effective use of the EU's hard and soft power instruments.

"I stress in the report that all means must be utilized to achieve the EU's foreign policy goals — diplomacy, international trade, development cooperation and defense policy," the Estonian MEP explained in a press release.

Paet added that, as recommended in the report, the EU should fully integrate the "more for more" principle into relations with third countries, under which the EU would develop stronger partnerships with those countries that share the EU's foreign and security principles as well as its fundamental values.

"It's rather questionable to allocate money to countries that, for example, support Russia's aggression in Ukraine," he highlighted.

"I also recommend in the report that the EU should establish consular functions at embassies in third countries in order to help EU citizens in times of crises," he said.

The European Parliament adopted Paet's report with 451 votes in favor, 133 votes against and 48 abstentions.

To date, Estonia has supported retaining the unanimity requirement on EU foreign policy matters, with the government confirming as much most recently this January, but previously in 2019 as well, for example.

Among others who have spoken out in favor of dropping the unanimity requirement is German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example, who has made revamping the EU's internal decision-making processes a precondition for the admission of new member states. France, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy have also expressed their support for the idea.

The unanimity requirement applies to only very limited areas in the EU, such as foreign policy and taxes. The vast majority of decisions, however, do not require the approval of all member states to be adopted.

The unanimity requirement has hampered EU decisions involving support for Ukraine and implementing sanctions on Russia that Hungary has been against.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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