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The Brussels European Council - 21 and 22 June 2007
In the early hours of 23 June, the European Council brought the European Union's period of reflection to a close by deciding to convene an Intergovernmental Conference to adopt a new treaty.
After two years of reflecting on the process of reforming the EU treaties, the European Council of 21 and 22 June 2007 decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to finalise and adopt a new European Union treaty. This "Reform Treaty" will introduce into the EU and EC Treaties, which remain in force, the innovations resulting from the Convention and the IGC concluded in June 2004.
The European Council adopted a detailed and precise mandate for the IGC, which broadly takes over the institutional reforms agreed in 2004, while taking account of the lessons learnt during the reflection period. Some points gave rise to prolonged negotiations between Member States.
The mandate, summarised below, provides the exclusive basis and framework for the work of the IGC. The following does not concern the Reform Treaty as such, since only the IGC, which officially began its work on 23 July 2007, can take any final decisions concerning its content.
For the sake of clarity, the mandate's main innovations have been grouped together here under four headings.
THE CORNERSTONES OF THE UNION
The IGC mandate states that the Reform Treaty will not have a constitutional character. This will be reflected in the terminology used (for example, the term Constitution will not be used and the denominations "laws" and "framework laws" will be discarded in favour of the existing denominations "regulations" and "directives". In addition, the Treaty will not contain any article mentioning the symbols of the EU. In accordance with the traditional method for revising treaties, the Reform Treaty will amend the existing treaties.
The IGC mandate takes over a number of the founding principles, such as:
- the abolition of the pillars and attribution of legal personality to the EU. The TEC will be called Treaty on the Functioning of the Union. The term "Community" will be replaced throughout by the term "Union";
- the definition of the EU's democratic bases, such as democratic equality, representative democracy, participatory democracy and citizens' initiative;
- European citizens' rights will be enshrined by means of a reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which, although its text will not be incorporated into the future treaty, will be legally binding in all Member States (except the United Kingdom);
- the introduction of a voluntary withdrawal clause, enabling Member States to leave the EU;
- the strengthening of the principle of subsidiarity, in particular as a result of an enhanced role for national parliaments;
- a clearer division of responsibilities between the European Union and Member States.
The new treaty will list around 30 objectives for the Union, including; peace, full employment, sustainable development, cultural diversity, solidarity, cohesion and protection of citizens. The principle of "free and undistorted competition", which is not an end in itself, will not be included among the Union's objectives. It will nevertheless be the subject of a legally binding protocol annexed to the treaty.
The IGC mandate provides for several institutional changes. The main ones concern:
- the number of seats in the European Parliament, which will be limited to 750;
- the size of the Commission, which from 2014 will be composed of a number of Commissioners equal to two-thirds of the number of Member States;
- the European Council, which will be chaired by an eminent figure appointed for two and a half years (renewable once), thereby abolishing the system of the rotating Presidency of the European Council;
- the creation of a "High Representative of the EU for the Common Foreign and Security Policy", who will be both the Council's representative and Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for making Europe's voice heard in the world.
The IGC mandate confirms the generalisation of co-decision as the ordinary legislative procedure. The co-decision procedure is thereby extended to numerous fields, such as judicial cooperation in criminal matters and legal immigration.
Qualified majority voting is extended to more than 40 areas (the United Kingdom is exempted from measures in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters).
The double majority voting system has been the main bone of contention between the members of the European Council. After lengthy negotiations, European leaders reached a compromise under which, from 1 November 2014, qualified majority voting will be based on the principle of the double majority (55% of Member States representing 65% of the EU's population). The rules of the Nice Treaty will apply until 2014. In addition, during a transitional period ending on 31 March 2017, a Council member can still request that a decision be taken in accordance with the rules of the Nice Treaty. Finally, a mechanism similar to thee should enable a number of Member States close to the blocking minority to express their opposition to a decision.
THE POLICIES OF THE UNION
The IGC mandate provides for some changes of substance, particularly in the area of justice and home affairs, to which the Community method will be extended (with special arrangements for Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom). Moreover, for the first time, tackling climate change and solidarity among Member States in the field of energy will be explicitly mentioned in the treaty. The special nature of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, which remains largely intergovernmental, will also be emphasised.
On 29 October 2004, the 25 Heads of State and Government signed in Rome the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. To enter into force, this Treaty had to be ratified by all the Member States in accordance with each one's constitutional rules, namely either parliamentary ratification or referendum. Following the difficulties in ratifying the Treaty in some Member States, the Heads of State and Government decided, at the European Council meeting on 16 and 17 June 2005, to launch a "period of reflection" on the future of Europe. This period of reflection was intended to prompt a wide debate with European citizens.
This fact sheet is not legally binding on the European Commission, it does not claim to be exhaustive and does not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Treaty.
For more information, please visit the website of the Treaty of Lisbon.