Constitutional Treaty for Europe
With the Constitutional Treaty for Europe now finally passed the initial approval stage, having been discussed and formulated by the Constitutional Convention for the past year and a half, I was interested to take a look to see how the Constitution was actually created. Predictably, the Daily Mail printed front-page headlines claiming that it was a blueprint for tyranny, marking “the end of a thousand years of British history”. The remainder of the British press have presented the whole thing as the work of various Brussels bureaucrats and formulated only for the self-seeking interests of Europeans.
Well, they are right about the 'formulated for Europeans' part - although their intention is to attempt creating a division between the British people and the rest of Europe. The part about being written by Brussels bureaucrats is, however, completely wide of the mark.
The Constitutional Convention included representatives from the 28 countries of the then soon-to-be-enlarged European Union. Composed of one Minister from each government, two MPs from each national parliament (normally one from the majority and one from the opposition), 16 MEPs and two European Commissioners, it is a radical departure from the usual way of preparing treaty revisions - in the past, they have all been decided by working groups of foreign ministry officials. This Convention has held all its meetings in public, consulted NGOs and social partners, received submissions from hundreds of organisations, and made every draft document, amendment and proposal available in real time on an interactive website for anyone to see exactly what was being discussed at any time.
So, what exactly IS the new Constitutional Treaty for Europe all about?
* It will replace the complex and overlapping set of EU treaties with a single readable document, clearly spelling out the EU's powers and their limits.
* It will make the adoption of all EU legislation subject to the prior scrutiny of national Parliaments and the double approval of both national governments (in the EU Council) and directly elected MEPs – a level of scrutiny that exists in no other international structure.
* It will oblige EU institutions to conform to the same standards as regards fundamental rights as all our countries have signed up to.
* It will identify the existing European Union as a single legal entity and structure.
* It will simplify EU instruments and their terminology, to replace jargon by more easily understandable terms (for instance, 'EU regulations' will become 'EU laws', 'EU directives' will become 'EU framework laws').
* All Council decisions to be by Qualified Majority Voting (to be a “double majority” of both states and population, with a few exceptions (notably tax, social security, foreign policy and defence).
* Parliament to elect President of the Commission.
* Better information for national parliaments who are given right to object to draft legislation if they feel it goes beyond the EU's remit.
* The EU's foreign policy High Representative (currently Javier Solana) and the Commissioner for External Relations (currently Chris Patten) to be merged as a “double-hatted” special status Vice President of Commission/EU “Foreign Minister”.
* The European Council (the three-monthly meetings of Prime Ministers) to have a 2½ year chair instead of a 6-month rotating President.
* The Council of Ministers' Presidency to have separate rotation for different Council formations (subjects), but Foreign Affairs Council to be chaired by EU Foreign Minister.
* Commission to be reduced in size after 2009: fewer Commissioners, with Member States taking it in turn to nominate (full) Commissioners.
* New budget procedure to abolish distinction between “obligatory” and “non-obligatory” expenditure, giving EP final say on each year's spending (within a multi-annual financial programme to be agreed by EP and Council). This means that Agricultural spending will no longer be ring-fenced, but will be brought under full democratic control.
What is it not about?
* Any significant expansion in the EU's field of competence.
* Any change to the fact that the EU is a union of Member States who themselves determine its powers and responsibilities.
* Any change in the nature of the European Commission: its job will still be to make proposals and carry out what is agreed – it is not to become an all-powerful central government.
Now that the EU leaders have reached agreement on the new Constitutional Treaty for Europe it will be for the people of the individual Member States to consider the content and use their own voices to discuss, construcively it would be hoped, the content of the new Constitutional Treaty for Europe. Many countries are using the opportunity to present the Constitution to their voters to consider at the polls.
The comments by Bertie Ahern were interesting - as well as telling insofar as the mood of the many governments that were in agreement about the new Constitution. He said:
Our success in agreeing the European Constitution is a success for the people of Europe. The Constitution brings the Union's basic law into one document for the first time. It reflects the needs of a community of nations that has dramatically broadened its membership. That community will continue to expand and face new challenges into the future.
The European nations that were party to the creation of the new Constitution as Member States together with the three remaining Candidate Countries that were on the commitee, had these comments to make upon the finalisation of the Constitution.