EU ambassadors used a breakfast meeting on Wednesday to discuss a Franco-German proposal on the future of Europe — and their response was to call for caution, according to four diplomats.
A senior diplomat who was at the breakfast said “nobody was against” the Conference on the Future of Europe plan that Paris and Berlin have proposed. The ambassadors discussed an unofficial document put forward by the two capitals, in which they set out their view on the way the conference will be organized and what it needs to achieve.
One of the main “problems is that our French friends want to hurry” but “it’s a delicate process, involving civil society and many other actors and it has to be done properly,” the senior diplomat added.
During the meeting, there were some calls for caution on timing and others on the scope of the conference, which is likely to be headed by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose federalist views are a cause of concern for some. There was also one call to appoint a woman instead, two of the diplomats said.
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Another point that emerged from the informal conversation was a lack of appetite for a line in the Franco-German paper about “possible treaty change,” the diplomats said. Ireland and Denmark were among the countries that stressed the lack of will to reopen the treaties, “but no treaty changes was supported by almost everyone, except France and Germany,” a second diplomat said.
One of the key issues discussed on Wednesday was the role the EU institutions will play, with some countries happy to leave the lead role to the European Parliament and others wanting the Council to play a leading part. “It’s clear that we have to do something if we don’t want the whole process to be hijacked by the European Parliament,” the second diplomat said.
Some of the diplomats argued that it would only make sense for the Council to have a leading role: The Parliament is getting ready to work on its own proposals to reform the EU, and incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote in the mission letter to Dubravka Šuica, soon-to-be commissioner for democracy and demography, that “I believe we need a Conference on the Future of Europe, to start in 2020.”
During the discussion, there were also calls for national parliaments to be involved as well as “concern that we are engaged in navel-gazing when we should be talking about climate change, China and the consequences of AI on our labor market,” said a third diplomat. But whether Paris and Berlin will manage to get everybody on board remains to be seen: If they move too quickly, they risk rocking the boat, stressed the third diplomat.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to talk about the proposal during a meeting of EU leaders in two weeks’ time and the president-elect of the European Council, Charles Michel, has to decide whether to put the discussion on the agenda.
“There is a joint understanding that EU member states and the European Council have a role to play in the Conference on the Future of Europe,” said a fourth EU diplomat. “It is important that the European Council addresses the issue in a timely manner,” the diplomat added. The discussion could then continue at the General Affairs Council, featuring EU and foreign ministers.