This month, the EU launched the Conference on the Future of Europe, an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The disappointment that many of us feel about the EU leadership’s loss of direction demonstrates the absolute need for a root-and-branch revision of the concept that the founding fathers had at the end of World War II, in 1957.

The enlargement of the EU in 2004 has been a disaster. It has made the decision-making of the EU an absolute nightmare since most of the important decisions that are necessary for making the EU a world force for good have become impossible to achieve because of the unanimity rule required for still too many areas.

The national state still dominates the EU decision-making system and the Council of Ministers still decides. The EU functions like an intergovernmental institution. With six and 12 members between 1958 and 1973, great strides were made. With 17 members between 1973 and 2004, progress in commercial issues was achieved but all progress on fiscal, financial, social and external relations issues was stymied because of the unanimity requirement.

After 2004, when the bloc enlarged to 28 (and then reduced to 27 last year), most progress stopped. In fact, we have gone backwards on areas such as human rights, rule of law, money laundering, the free movement of labour that has introduced human slavery once more into the labour market, and the protection of the press. Journalists have been murdered and, only last week, another blogger was captured in an act of state-controlled piracy and plane hijacking by Belarus with the EU unable to do anything but pretend to bite with a toothless mouth.

It is utterly disappointing that Malta’s dream to join the EU happened just at the time when the former communist countries joined too. These still have profound scars from the 70 years of communist rule and, when they joined the EU, they had not yet been cured from these wounds. We see tendencies of dictatorial rule in many of those countries like in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and others and we are still talking of allowing other former communist countries like North Macedonia, Albania and Serbia to join.

The enlargement of the EU in 2004 has been a disaster- John Vassallo

Without a thorough deepening of the EU and the total elimination of the rule of unanimity from all decision- making, there is little hope that the whole concept of the founding fathers will last. But with a new treaty that is based on more powers to legislate and to initiate legislation granted to the European Parliament, and with the elimination of the unanimity rule for all matters in the European Council, the new EU would be able to help the next generation to fulfil its dreams.

With majority rule, we would have a unified taxation system, a common minimum wage, a position that allows the European Commission to bring the multinationals to pay a fair amount of tax in Europe that will allow the EU to take positions at the UN on behalf of the entire EU whether any single country disagrees. It would allow penalties and internal sanctions towards member states that do not apply the rule of law or the common interest on taxation.

Of course, many countries like Poland and Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Ireland and Luxembourg would disagree with the elimination of the unanimity rule for reasons of either rule of law or taxation issues. These countries will try to block the revision of the treaty.

However, if Macron has guts, he should stand his ground. Those countries that want to put Europe in its rightful place of leadership in the international policy setting, whether on environmental, fiscal or political issues, could go ahead without the laggards. He should suggest that, if there is no agreement, there should be a two-speed Europe of the willing or, better still, a new EU made up of a smaller number of countries, leaving those unwilling to be part of the new EU to fall out.

This might leave our own country outside the club because our present government only likes the EU when it pays out subsidies but hates it when it proposes a return to the rule of law and the elimination of tax avoidance schemes, the sales of passports, money laundering, state pushback of immigrants at sea and the murder of journalists. If that is the case and much as it would hurt me and my family to be outside the EU, I would rather have a stronger EU without Malta than the present toothless tiger which it has become.

We will watch the Conference on the Future of Europe in Brussels and Strasbourg and hope that 2022, when it is supposed to be concluded, will be as earth-shattering as 1957 was.

John Vassallo, former ambassador to the EU

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