Unanimity, a risk to EU independence

by Emmanuele D’Oria

“Decisions relating to the common security and defense policy […] shall be adopted by the Council acting unanimously” (art.42 com.4 TEU). 

Historically, unanimity has always been the way to show cohesion of the European voice on the world stage, making Europe politically stronger. While in the past it was easier to find a common view because there were only a few members, after the enlargement of the European family, finding a position which all members can agree upon is harder and requires a lot of time. Time that could be used for managing more important crises, such as illegal immigration, the health emergency or the return of war in Europe. However, a more critical aspect not frequently discussed is that unanimity could expose European independence to foreign interference in its decision-making processes.

The danger of fake news

The main methods used by foreign powers in the 21st Century are the illegal financing of political parties expressing opinions aligned to their interests and the diffusion of fake news to help those parties win national elections. We have been hearing about fake news for a long time, but nobody seems to understand the real danger. The simple production and sharing of fake news through social media, together with the difficulty of people to recognize it, give concrete form to the principle “a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth”. Therefore, political beliefs of the one country’s electorate could be influenced and manipulated.

In this field, Russia is the most active country, with its vast net of hackers who are known for having spread fake news on the web to promote pro-Russian propaganda with the aim to give electoral advantages to pro-Russian political parties. Several American intelligence reports, which were sent to allied-countries embassies in 2022, state that Russia has spent millions to interfere in different elections since 2014. In Mali, the anti-Western Kremlin-made propaganda has forced France and its European allies to withdraw from the country, where they were deployed to fight terrorism in the Sahel region and help stabilize the area, in line with the policy “let’s help them in their home”. Finally, we should also consider the recent arm wrestling between the EU and the Hungarian PM Orbán – a close friend of Russian President Putin – regarding the establishment of the embargo on Russian oil exports, which saw the Budapest government vetoing the work of the Council multiple times, thus allowing Russia to earn billions from the sale of hydrocarbons. 

European weakness

Confronted with all of this, can we say that unanimity is an incentive for foreign countries to muddle further in our internal affairs and therefore it is a risk for our decision-making independence? In the author’s opinion, we can indeed say it is a risk. The problem in Europe is that when there is a pro-Russia political party leading a nation, for example, that country will have the power to veto every possible decision concerning Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). This way, we may run the risk that the authorities of a foreign country, such as Russia, may be indirectly represented in the Council. After all, the cost/benefit ratio is low if a single friendly country is enough to block the entire Union’s common policies! 

What is the future of the European Union? 

In March 2022, the European Council approved the “Strategic Compass”. This document highlights some goals to achieve in the next years to build an independent EU, able to be a global trusted partner. But this document does not provide any changes to the unanimity rule, even if some important members of the European Parliament and heads of government agreed to abandon the unanimity rule in favor of the qualified majority procedure, the latter being already in use even if not for matters within the competence of the CSDP. 

Today, Hungary and Poland are the main opponents to adopting the majority rule for the CSDP.  At the moment, these two nations are in open struggle with the European institutions because they were accused of adopting illiberal reforms which do not meet the criteria of a democracy and do not reflect the funding values of the European Union. As a result, every possible debate on the topic is often blocked under the crossfire of these two countries, causing the largest union of democratic states on Earth, collecting more than 400 million people, being hostage to the vetos of the governments of Warsaw and Budapest.

What can we do now?  

Over the last years, the European Union debate has been focusing for too long on economic issues instead of facing the challenges of the twenty-first century. This has revived nationalist movements and anti-European feelings, especially in countries suffering from the negative effects of globalization and the economic crisis. If we want to achieve the goals set out in the “Strategic Compass”, we have to re-discuss the European treaties, and the first step must be the adoption of the qualified majority rule for CSDP.