Scholz urges expanded majority voting to speed up EU decisions

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz proposed a change from the current unanimity required from member states. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for an overhaul of European Union decision-making, proposing that majority voting should be used initially in areas like sanctions and human rights.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, member states must deliver on the "promise of peace" that was behind the birth of the bloc "by enabling the European Union to safeguard its security, its independence and its stability also in the face of challenges from without", Scholz said, according to the text of a speech in Prague on Monday (Aug 29).

He called his proposals "ideas" and "food for thought", saying they were "not ready-made German solutions".

While French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken favourably about expanded majority voting, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, whose country holds the bloc's six-month rotating presidency, has warned against attempts for a major revamp of EU decision-making.

"Debates about changes now not only won't make us stronger, but they may also disrupt currently needed consensus and cooperation," Fiala said this month.

In his speech at Prague's Charles University, Scholz outlined a potential compromise on his earlier calls for the use of majority voting instead of the unanimity required in the EU.

'One voice'

"I could imagine, for example, starting with majority voting in areas in which it is particularly important that we speak with one voice," Scholz said. "In sanctions policy, for example, or on issues relating to human rights."

As governments across the EU struggle with spiking energy prices, Scholz urged "developing and maturing the technologies here in Europe that are needed and used around the world".

"On electricity, I'm thinking of the creation of the grid and storage infrastructure for a real internal energy market which supplies Europe with hydropower from the north, wind from the coasts and solar energy from the south - reliably, both in summer and in winter," Scholz said.

He also called for "a European hydrogen network connecting producers and consumers and triggering a European electrolysis boom" and "the densest possible network of vehicle-charging points in each of our countries".

To help modernise Ukraine's army, Scholz proposed a division of labour among EU countries, with Germany taking the lead on sending more artillery and air defence assets.

'Greater planning'

"Our objective is modern Ukrainian armed forces that are able to defend their country on a permanent basis," Scholz said. "However, we mustn't content ourselves with supplying Kyiv with equipment that we ourselves can do without at the moment," he added. "We need greater planning and coordination also here."

He called for stronger coordination among EU states on military matters, calling for regular meetings of defence ministers in Brussels, as is already the case for agriculture or environment ministers, and a "jointly developed air-defence system".

He also threw his weight behind Macron's proposal for a broad new European political grouping, first proposed in May. The idea has been met with scepticism as many EU leaders see it as vague and complicated.

The group could also be open to Britain, allowing it to become more involved in European affairs post-Brexit.

"What is lacking, however, is a regular exchange at the political level -- a forum in which we heads of state and government of the EU and our European partners meet once or twice each year to discuss the key issues that affect our continent as a whole, such as security, energy, the climate and connectivity," Scholz said.

"Such a grouping -- and it's very important to me to emphasise this -- is not an alternative to the upcoming process of EU enlargement," he added.

Among proposals to boost "European sovereignty", Scholz called for "a single, cross-border European space for mobility data as soon as possible".

Data will play a crucial role in future mobility, Scholz said, not only for autonomous driving systems but also in the coordination of different means of transport and smart management of traffic streams.

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