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Juncker Wants EU States To Abandon Unanimity, Play Greater International Role

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (file photo)

BRUSSELS -- European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has urged EU member states to abandon the requirement of unanimity for decisions on some foreign policy matters, including human rights issues, and play a greater role on the world stage.

Juncker made the call on September 12 in his state-of-the-EU speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, saying that EU states should rein in divisions over budgets, immigration, and other issues.

"We must improve our ability to speak with one voice when it comes to our foreign policy," Juncker, who is entering his last year in office, told EU lawmakers.

He said that "whenever Europe speaks as one, we can impose our position on others."

Juncker cited as an example the EU's failure to condemn human rights abuses by China at the United Nation's Human Rights Council, referring to an incident in June when Greece stopped Brussels from voicing concern about Beijing's crackdown on journalists and dissidents.

Although not mentioned during his speech, the written text of his comments published by the commission afterward also stated that "it is not right that one member state was able to hold the renewal of our arms embargo on Belarus to ransom, or that sanctions on Venezuela were delayed for months when unanimity could not be reached."

EU foreign policy is one of the areas where decisions are made by unanimity, but the commission has highlighted three areas where a so-called qualified majority vote (QMV) should be introduced: to respond collectively to attacks on human rights, to apply effective sanctions, and to launch and manage civilian security and defense missions.

QMV means that a decision is passed if 55 percent of the member states, representing at least 65 percent of the EU population, agree.

The commission hopes that EU leaders will agree to the change at an EU summit in the Romanian city of Sibiu on May 9, 2019, which takes place less than two months after Britain is expected to leave the EU and two weeks ahead of the European Parliamentary elections.

In his September 12 speech, Juncker also called for more solidarity and less last-minute scrambling to address the issue of migrants.

"We cannot continue to squabble [in an effort] to find ad hoc solutions each time a new ship arrives. Temporary solidarity is not good enough," he said. "We need a lot more. We need more solidarity, and solidarity must be lasting and organized."

He also stressed that EU needed legal routes for migration and "skilled migrants."

"The commission is today proposing to further strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard to better protect our external borders with an additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020," he said.

Juncker also said the EU needed more solidarity and a "forthright attitude" on the future inclusion of more countries in the Western Balkans, where Russia, Turkey, and other countries are vying for influence.

"We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans -- once and for all," he said. "Should we not, our immediate neighborhood will be shaped by others."

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, and the BBC
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.