Austria's Sebastian Kurz: Time to replace EU's Lisbon Treaty to cope with migration, Brexit, debt

The chancellor of Austria has said the 2007 Lisbon Treaty is no longer fit for its purpose and needs some rejigging. One of his demands will not go down well in France.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday that the national governments of the European Union should renegotiate the bloc's foundational treaty to better deal with the challenges facing the continent.

"A new treaty is needed with clearer sanctions for members who run up debts, punishments for countries that wave through illegal migrants without registering them, as well as tough consequences for breaches of the rule of law and liberal democracy," Kurz said in an interview with Austrian newspapers.

"Much had changed" since the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, he said, citing the bloc's "debt crisis, euro crisis, migration crisis, climate crisis" and "Brexit chaos."

Read more: Germany's conservatives issue anti-nationalist, pro-Europe rallying cry

Excusez-moi?

The chancellor said any reform, which would require all 28 national governments' approval, should include an end to the practice of holding European parliamentary sessions in both Brussels and the French city of Strasbourg.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented his EU reform ideas earlier this year, opposes the parliament's permanent move to Brussels.

Read more: Austria's Kurz criticizes Macron's 'utopian' vision of Europe

European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

Manfred Weber (EPP)

The center-right European People's Party (EPP) — the largest faction in the European Parliament — has picked Manfred Weber, its German parliamentary party leader. He has the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though considered the front-runner, Weber is little known on the international stage, and his language skills are considered poor.

European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

Frans Timmermans (S&D)

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission's first vice president, will lead the campaign for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D). Weber's main rival promises to bring the bloc closer to ordinary voters at a time when Britain's looming exit is one factor behind the nationalist movements across the EU.

European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

Jan Zahradil (ECR)

The third-largest group in the EU Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), has just one candidate: Jan Zahradil, chairman of the Czech ECR delegation. Zahradil, 65, is affectionately known as "Forrest Gump" for cycling from Prague to Strasbourg for a session of the European Parliament and for once running 1,300 kilometers (about 800 miles) across the Czech Republic for charity.

European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

Margrethe Vestager (ALDE)

Margrethe Vestager, 51, is one of seven lead candidates for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats. As the current EU commissioner for competition, the Danish MEP has taken on corporations like Apple, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet. It's also been said that she served as the inspiration for the main character in Borgen, a Danish series where a woman becomes Denmark's first female leader.

European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA)

The Greens/EFA is the seventh largest group in European Parliament, so the Dutchman is a long shot to become European Commission president. The 42-year-old MEP, who along with Germany's Ska Keller is representing the group, said he joined the race to "make sure the Green vision is being heard." He has championed a move to cap palm oil use by 2023, then reduce it to zero by 2030.

European Elections 2019: Candidates for the top EU job

Violeta Tomic (GUE/NGL)

The EU's left-wing groups will be headed by Belgian trade unionist Nico Cue and Violeta Tomic (at left). Tomic is a deputy in Slovenia's National Assembly, best known as a TV presenter and actress. She entered into politics in 2014 and has been an advocate for LGBT rights and stronger citizens' rights in Europe.

"He who demands reforms must also be prepared to make them where it hurts," Kurz said.

The Austrian leader also called for a greater emphasis on EU foreign policy and cutting down the size of the European Commission, with fewer senior Commission posts apportioned on a rotating basis. Each national government currently has the right to appoint its own commissioner.

Read more: Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant parties team up for EU election

The Lisbon Treaty, signed in 2007, took six years to negotiate and nearly failed to go into force when an Irish referendum voted the agreement down. Only after the treaty passed a second poll could it go into effect in 2009. Negotiations for the EU deal consumed much of the bloc's attention for half a decade and were accompanied by years of European navel-gazing.

Looming vote

The 32-year-old head of the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) has been in a coalition with the far-right FPÖ since 2017.

His comments come weeks ahead of elections to the European Parliament. Polls predict gains for far-right, populist and anti-EU parties across the continent.

"We don't want to hand over the EU to the extreme fringes on the left or right, instead we need a strong politics of the center," he said.

Read more: One in 10 EU voters support far-right populist parties 

amp/sms (AFP, dpa)

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