How exactly should the EU reform and what are the next steps forward? The third edition of the Democracy Reform Conversations brought three prominent speakers to discuss the topic: Guy Verhofstadt, Member of the European Parliament, former Belgian Prime Minister and co-author of the European Parliament draft report for the amendment of the Treaty, Daniela Schwarzer, Bertelsmann Stiftung Board member and co-rapporteur for the Franco-German working group on the EU institutional reform, and Janis Emmanouilidis, Director of Studies from European Policy Centre. The event is a part of the EU Democracy Reform Observatory, a joint initiative between Bertelsmann Stiftung and European Policy Centre that seeks to foster the debate on modernizing European democracy via its events, analysis and research.
It is hardly necessary to justify why the EU needs to reform. Achieving strategic autonomy, capacity to act, future enlargement and bottom-up pressure from citizens, as the Conference on the Future of Europe showed, are all important reasons. Yet there is a bigger leitmotif for the reform, stressed Daniela Schwarzer - strengthening the rule of law principle. "If the EU is not able to stand up to the rule of law, it will have a serious and systemic legitimacy problem", argued she. The focus on rule of law is a common thread for both reports on the EU reform.
The political prospects for the reform are less clear. The Commission will reveal its stance in its Communication on pre-enlargement reforms and policy reviews. The Council does not show much enthusiasm. The member states are not keen on speeding up the reform process, yet do not utterly reject reform proposals either. We are in a very good momentum for the reform, underlined Janis Emmanouilidis, and the next step is, perhaps, to move to a concrete proposal on the package deal acceptable for everyone.
The good news is that the debate on the reform has greatly advanced, and the discussion unfolds. Now, as also stressed Daniela Schwarzer, we need to rethink how we mobilize for a change. Companies, social partners, civil society and citizens need to be brought onboard in the reform process. The latter should be participatory, just like future EU enlargement, and that is what should be different about the reform process this time.
All eyes are on the Belgian Presidency from January 2024 that is ready to take up the task of pushing for the reform. More differentiated integration, reform at one or several go's, more rights to the European Parliament et cetera are all potential reform trajectories and outcomes. The EU enters election season, and the reform debate will only intensify.