German leader outlines his vision for a bigger and more cohesive EU

PRAGUE (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday called on a growing European Union to agree on a series of changes that would help it overcome internal divisions and stand up to external rivals such as Russia and China.

In a high-profile speech at Charles University in Prague, Scholz said the EU should prepare for future enlargement from 27 to 30 – or even 36 – nations by taking more majority decisions, rather than demanding unanimity on all issues. which in the past allowed each member state to veto key decisions.

“We must remember that pledging allegiance to the principle of unanimity only works as long as the pressure to act is weak,” Scholz said, arguing that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call for the EU to change the way it takes decisions.

Scholz suggested allowing majority decisions on pressing issues like sanctions or human rights policy, with those who don’t explicitly want to support a vote having the option to abstain without blocking unanimity. .

The German leader also backed calls to reconsider the composition of the European Parliament, which currently has 751 MPs, to avoid it becoming “bloated” in a future enlargement. A similar reform of how each member state is represented on the bloc’s Executive Commission could see commissioners share responsibility in certain areas, he said.

With Europe lagging behind global rivals in digitalization and space exploration, Scholz said the EU could become a global leader in the transition to a greener economy that would also help it become less dependent foreign energy suppliers.

In his speech, Scholz repeatedly cited the threat posed to the EU by Russia under its authoritarian president, warning that “any disunity between us, any weakness, is grist for (Vladimir) Putin’s mill.”

“We need to close ranks, resolve old conflicts and find new solutions,” he said, noting that the bloc must overcome longstanding tensions between its members over migration and fiscal policy issues.

Scholz’s speech echoes proposals made in recent months by French President Emmanuel Macron. But it is likely to be met with suspicion by smaller countries who fear reforming heavy EU decision-making processes to allow more votes to pass with two-thirds majorities could see their concerns ignored.

Tensions have also erupted in recent years between the European Commission and the Hungarian and Polish governments, with Brussels accusing these countries of violating the bloc’s core values ​​and the principle of the rule of law.

Scholz said the EU ‘cannot stand idly by when the principles of due process are violated and democratic control is dismantled’ but called for unity in the face of growing pressure from outside .

“When, if not now, will we overcome the differences that have bound and divided us for years?” He asked.

Germany, which until recently lagged other NATO countries in military spending, plans to invest heavily in its air defense in the coming years, Scholz said. The system will be designed in such a way that its European neighbors can join, he said.

James R. Rhodes