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PRAGUE (AP) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Monday for 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 wide-ranging speech at Charles University in Prague, Mr. Scholz said the EU must make itself “fit” for future enlargement from 27 to 30—or even 36—nations by taking more decisions by majority vote, rather than requiring unanimity on all issues that has in the past allowed individual member states to veto key decisions.
“We have to remember that swearing allegiance to the principle of unanimity only works for as long as the pressure to act is low,” Mr. Scholz said, arguing that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call for the EU to change the way it takes decisions.
Mr. Scholz suggested allowing majority decisions on pressing issues such as sanctions or human rights policy, with those unwilling to explicitly back 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 deputies, to prevent it becoming “bloated” through future expansion. A similar reform of the way each member state is represented in the bloc’s executive Commission could see commissioners share responsibility in certain areas, he said.
With Europe lagging behind global rivals when it comes to digitalization and space exploration, Mr. Scholz said the EU could become a global leader in the transition to a greener economy that would also help it become less dependent on foreign energy suppliers.
In his address, Mr. Scholz repeatedly cited the threat posed to the EU by Russia under its authoritarian president, warning that “any disunity among us, any weakness, is grist to [Vladimir] Putin’s mill.”
“We must close ranks, resolve old conflicts and find new solutions,” he said, noting that the bloc needs to overcome long-running tensions among its members on the issues of migration and fiscal policy.
Mr. Scholz’s speech echoed proposals made in recent months by French President Emmanuel Macron. But it is likely to be received warily by smaller countries that fear reforming the EU’s unwieldy decision-making processes to allow more votes to pass with two-third majorities could see their concerns ignored.
Tensions have also flared in recent years between the European Commission and the governments of Hungary and Poland, with Brussels accusing those countries of breaching the bloc’s fundamental values and the principle of rule of law.
Mr. Scholz said the EU “cannot stand by when the principles of due process are violated and democratic oversight is dismantled,” but appealed for unity in the face of mounting pressure from outside.
“When, if not now, will we overcome the differences that have hobbled and divided us for years?” he asked.
Germany, which until recently lagged behind other NATO countries when it came to military spending, plans to invest heavily in its air defense in the coming years, said Mr. Scholz. The system will be designed so that its European neighbors can join, he said.