In the context of a plenary session full of debates and decisions that provoked strong divisions between the political forces, especially on environmental issues (pesticides and packaging), the European Parliament adopted on 22 November the report drafted by five rapporteurs from the Constitutional Affairs Commission (LINK) over a year of drafting without transparency or public debate, underestimating even the need to involve civil society and citizens who had participated in the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The result of the vote, beyond the contents of the text that emerged from the decisions of the European Parliament, indicates that the orientation of an albeit limited majority of the current elected MEPs in the European Parliament seems to be hostile to or at least harbour many doubts about a comprehensive reform of the Lisbon Treaty.
Out of 705 MEPs, a hundred decided not to take part in the vote, 44 abstained, 274 voted against and 291, i.e. 40% of the House, voted in favour, calculating that the MEPs from the five groups who had voted in favour in the Constitutional Affairs Committee totalled 440.
An analysis of the individual votes also shows us the orientations of the political groups in the Assembly (LINK).
One should reflect on the reasons why this result has come about and on the road that has to be taken between now and the European elections and after them in order to change the course of the European Union in a situation where it is clear to all that the European Union is not able to cope with internal and external challenges and that the Lisbon Treaties signed in 2007 are not the appropriate instrument to meet these challenges.
If the current MEPs have not been able to give an adequate response, we will have to turn to public opinion, civil society, European citizens to start a mobilisation to push the European political parties to play the role entrusted to them by the Lisbon Treaty to form the European awareness of our public opinions.
The European Movement intends to continue along this path and will launch an appeal for a broad mobilisation to launch a democratic constituent process.
In the coming weeks, it is necessary to avoid the risks of procedural challenges by the Council and the European Council as was the case for the resolution adopted by the European Parliament in June 2022 after the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe to open a phase of reform of the European system, to launch a review of the report adopted on 22 November, mainly on certain aspects that are essential for the effectiveness and democratic character of the European Union such as its finances and decision-making process that were weakened by the vote in the plenary session, before a process of treaty revision gets underway, to lay the foundations for building broad majority support for the prospect of a deepening of the integration process necessary to enable the Union to face complex geopolitical challenges and to make the accession of new countries possible by effectively following up on the orientations and recommendations of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) then stipulates in Article 231 that “The European Parliament shall decide by a majority of the votes cast unless the Treaties provide otherwise”, i.e. both the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on its Functioning.
Among the exceptions, in addition to censure of the European Commission and budgetary decisions together with the right of legislative pre-initiative (Art. 223, 225, 229, 232, 234, 290, 312, 314, 315, 354 TFEU), the most relevant one concerns the ordinary legislative procedure in which the European Parliament at second reading must express itself by a majority of its members (absolute majority) and not by a majority of the votes cast (simple majority) as is the case at first reading.
The European Parliament’s approval of a draft with the aim of revising the Treaties does not fall under the “non-legislative” own-initiative reports provided for in Rule 54 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, but under those powers that the Treaty attributes to the European Parliament such as European electoral law or pre-legislative initiative or censure of the European Commission or the creation of a committee of enquiry for which the TFEU provides exceptions to absolute majority voting.
For these reasons of substance, in matters of a constitutional nature, the European Parliament should decide that the principle of their adoption in plenary session by an absolute majority (at least 353 votes in favour) should apply to the vote on drafts under Article 48.2 TEU.
It is worth emphasising that, according to Article 48 TEU for the decisions referred to in the first and second paragraphs, the European Council shall act unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by an absolute majority, and that, on the basis of this provision, it seems logical that the European Parliament’s draft for the revision of the Lisbon Treaties should also have the same majority required for final approval.
In this spirit, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs should check the coherence of the proposed amendments to the treaties with each other and with the resolution preceding these amendments, seek the opinion of the European Parliament’s legal service, present an interpretation of the treaty provision pursuant to Rule 236. 3 of the Rules of Procedure, which interpretation does not require the absolute majority as it would for a formal amendment of the Rules of Procedure itself, organise hearings with civil society networks, social partners and European citizens’ ‘ambassadors’ involved in the Conference on the Future of Europe, and consult the national parliaments of the member States and candidate countries on the basis of Rule 150 of the Rules of Procedure.
At the same time, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs should revise the report voted on 22 November as a result of these checks and consultations and vote on it in an extraordinary meeting on 14 February 2024, i.e. on the 40th anniversary of the European Parliament’s approval of the “Draft Treaty establishing the European Union” (Spinelli Project).
The new report of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs should be discussed and put to a vote in the plenary session from 26 to 29 February 2024 in order to be sent to the Council and then to the European Council requesting that the European Council place it at the centre of the discussion and decisions on the ‘Strategic Agenda 2024-2029’ on the basis of an inter-institutional agreement.
In this way, the start of the path to reform of the European Union can take place on the basis of the necessary broad, substantive consensus.
Brussels, 28 November 2023
Pier Virgilio Dastoli