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News in Brief, BB200707

EU Summit: from constitution to treaty

12.07.2007

In the early hours of 23 June, EU leaders managed to overcome the institutional impasse and agree on the outlines of a new EU "Reform Treaty" put forward by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to replace the EU Constitution.

Heads of State and national governments signed on to a detailed mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), and agreed to start work before the end of July to hammer out the details of a new "Reform Treaty," which is to be adopted by the end of the year. Ratification would come in time for the 2009 European elections. One of the most problematic points concerned the future system for reaching majority decisions in the EU Council of Ministers. The draft constitution had envisaged the double majority principle, according to which decisions require the approval of 55 percent of the Member States with at least 65 percent of the EU population.

The Summit almost failed due to this issue: Poland was extremely reluctant, and planned at one point to veto the proposal. According to the Treaty of Nice currently in force, Poland, with its population of 40 million, has 27 votes in the Council. Germany, which has almost twice the number of inhabitants, has 29 votes. Under the double majority system, Poland loses votes in the Council, while Germany gains influence.

The solution eventually arrived at dictates that the double majority system will only enter into force in 2014. Furthermore, in the event of a dispute, Member States may invoke the Treaty of Nice and demand the postponement of an undesired decision until 2017. Poland also managed to secure an energy solidarity clause, soothing its concerns over tense relations with Russia.
In another important concession, the UK was granted an exemption from the legally-binding Charter of Fundamental Rights and was able to re-title the disputed ‘EU Foreign Minister’ post to be the ‘High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.’
The new EU foreign policy chief will permanently chair ministerial meetings and serve as Vice-President of the Commission, merging the jobs of High Representative Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The Foreign Policy High Representative will be supported by an external action service made up of national and EU diplomats.



Further reforms

Progress was made on several other fronts at the summit, including:

The EU will have a full-time Council President in the future, who will chair the European Council for two and a half years. This will replace the current system of the rotating Presidency, and allow for greater continuity;

National competences are to be strengthened as national parliaments will now have eight weeks in which to raise objections against draft legislative acts, should they feel that these infringe upon national competences;

The European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers will in the future have equal powers in deciding the EU budget;

The number of Commissioners is to be reduced from 27 to 15 by 2014;

Member States, such as the United Kingdom, will be able to opt out of EU decisions on closer cooperation in judicial and police matters. They may also opt out of the common policy in social affairs. If no agreement has been reached within four months, Member States wishing to move forward may do so;

Germany had been given the mandate to draw up a road map for treaty reform back in the middle of 2006. The background to this was the negative outcome of referenda on the draft constitution in France and the Netherlands in spring 2005. This had been followed by a two-year period of reflection, which had now come to an end. A new treaty needs to be ratified by all the Member States before the election of the European Parliament in 2009, in order to ensure that the enlarged EU would remain able to act beyond this point. At the beginning of the week, the German Presidency outlined the status of negotiations on treaty reform to the other 26 Member States. In turn, each country expressed its views and wishes. The search for compromises could then begin;

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