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The Intergovernmental Conference 2003/2004


Negotiations under the Irish Presidency


New approach: informal contacts

The European Council of March 2004: a political commitment

The resumption of negotiations

The "focal points" meeting
The seventh ministerial session
The eight ministerial session
The ninth ministerial session
The European Council of June 2004: the final agreement on the Constitution

The outcome of the 2003/2004 IGC

Finalisation of the texts
Signature of the Constitution

Since it proved impossible to obtain the agreement of all the Member States on the Constitution at the European Council meeting in December 2003, the Irish Presidency was asked to consult all the parties and to assess the prospects of progress for the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

With the greatest discretion, the Irish Presidency consulted all the delegations in order to find ways of breaking the deadlock. Its proposals for resuming deliberations were welcomed by the European Council meeting in March and formal negotiations were resumed in May 2004.

By tackling the issues one by one the Presidency was able to find compromises on the majority of the outstanding questions and came to the decisive meeting of the European Council in June with only a few questions still open. The Heads of State and Government therefore only had to decide upon the most important issues, which included the institutional questions and the voting system in the Council. On the evening of 18 June 2004, the Heads of Government and the State provided the European Union with its first Constitution.

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A NEW APPROACH: INFORMAL CONTACTS

Initially the aim was to establish what might be called the "acquis" of the IGC, namely the points on which the outgoing Italian Presidency thought a consensus had already been more or less reached. The Irish Presidency thus consulted the Italian Presidency to ease the transition and to take stock of the situation after the European Council meeting in December. Following these consultations, the Presidency stated that future negotiations would be based on the text drafted by the Convention and the document produced at the meeting in Naples .

Subsequently, the Presidency contacted all the delegations immediately and, in order to break the deadlock, adopted an informal approach, multiplying bilateral contacts at the level of the senior delegation officials. At the political level, the President of the European Council, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, contacted his colleagues in January and February. At the same time, the President of the Council, the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, met his colleagues for a series of talks.

It was also important for the Presidency to listen to the various countries and to try to understand their positions. These meetings were held in total discretion, enabling the delegations to drop the tactical manoeuvring which is inherent in any negotiation. The Presidency saw this as essential in order to enable it to establish how far the negotiations had come and to assess the situation.

The Presidency had not set an agenda for this initial phase, its main objective being to analyse precisely what the situation was. After the failure of December, the mood in the delegations was subdued and many of them expected a long break in the negotiations. The Presidency's immediate aim was to breathe fresh life into the IGC and to determine whether the Member States were willing to continue negotiating.

At the plenary session in January 2003, the European Parliament appealed to the Heads of State or Government to pursue their efforts and overcome their differences in order to arrive at a balanced and positive outcome. The Parliament in particular confirmed its support for the proposals of the European Convention.

At the General Affairs Council meeting of 26 January 2004, the Presidency seized the opportunity to hold an initial open debate between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs during lunch. This debate was not a formal session of the IGC but rather a listening forum.

Following lunch, the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs saw that all the partners were willing to resume work and were committed to finding a solution. The Presidency thus pursued its consultations during the two months preceding the meeting of the European Council mainly in an effort to secure an informal agreement on the voting system in the Council.

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The European Council of March 2004: a political commitment

Following the numerous contacts between the Irish Presidency and the delegations, the Irish Prime Minister was able to send a report to his colleagues on 22 March taking stock of the progress in the informal talks which it had conducted so far and putting forward some views on the most complicated issues. This report, which was mainly descriptive, did not include any formal proposal on the outstanding issues but outlined the avenues to be explored to find solutions.

The Presidency saw that all the delegations had a genuine desire to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible. It thought that most of the points which had been put on hold could be resolved without any great difficulty: the majority of the proposals presented by the Italian Presidency to the European Council meeting in December (Document IGC 60/03) attracted a very broad consensus for an overall agreement. Finally, the vast majority of the Convention's proposals were not further challenged.

The thorniest issues which remained were therefore the size and composition of the Commission and the definition of a qualified majority vote and its field of application . The question of the minimum number of seats in the European Parliament was also still open. According to the Presidency, an overall solution on these questions and the other remaining points at issue could be found if there was the political will and sufficient flexibility. No date for a possible conclusion of negotiations was mentioned.

At the dinner of 25 March, the President of the European Council gave a verbal report to his colleagues which was followed by an open debate between the Heads of State and Government. The aim was to assess whether there was the political will to make rapid progress towards an agreement. According to observers, the spirit within the IGC seemed to have changed and the desire to find a compromise had increased in the light of the views expressed by the new Spanish Prime Minister and in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Madrid. In response to this, the Heads of State and Government were resolved to resume negotiations and to reach an agreement on the points which were still at issue to give Europe the capacity for action it needed.

The Irish Presidency therefore received a mandate to resume the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Conference. The European Council undertook to complete the constitutional process by the European Council meeting of 17/18 June at the latest.

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THE RESUMPTION OF NEGOTIATIONS

The "focal points" meeting

Following the political undertaking in March, the Presidency continued with its bilateral contacts and drew up a provisional calendar of meetings. Before starting formal negotiations, the Presidency held a meeting of the contact points ("focal points") or senior officials from the Member States' delegations.

This meeting, which took place on 4 May 2004 in Dublin, was intended to discuss many of the less contentious points. The Presidency thought that clarifying the text in a technical and linguistic rather than political manner could help to provisionally close the negotiations on these points, subject, of course, to all the parties agreeing. The Presidency hoped that this approach would effectively prepare the ground for a first formal meeting.

It had prepared a working document as a basis for discussion. This was not the formal overall proposal of the Presidency but included many proposals made by the Italian Presidency after the Naples meeting. The document clarified a great many points in a bid to facilitate agreement.

After the meeting, the Presidency thought that there was a broad compromise on many of the questions, which did not need to be reopened again. On 13 May, it published a document containing wordings which were likely to attract a wide consensus with prospects of obtaining overall agreement. It thought that a debate at ministerial level was no longer necessary.

In the meantime, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern was pursuing his "tour of the capitals" which took him to all the Member States up to the beginning of the month of June. He took advantage of these meetings to sound out his opposite numbers about the Presidency's ideas and solutions informally, particularly with regard to the institutional issues. This strategy gave him the assurance that its proposals already enjoyed wide support even before they were presented as the Presidency's proposals.

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The seventh ministerial meeting - 17 and 18 May 2004

In preparation for the first official debate of the IGC at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 17 and 18 May, the Presidency published a document which was intended to be used as a basis for discussions containing questions on which the Presidency thought that a fresh debate would be useful.

The first part was devoted to the issues which had already been studied by the focal points, some of which needed to be debated again at ministerial level, such as the formations of the Council of Ministers and their Presidency, the multiannual financial framework, the budgetary procedure and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The second part contained the Italian Presidency's proposals on the scope of qualified majority voting as a basis for discussion. At that time, the Irish Presidency had not yet made any new proposals.

Finally, in the third section, the Presidency set out several technical items relating to the Commission on which a compromise was likely to be reached. Nevertheless, the Presidency did not wish a text relating to the key issue of the composition of the Commission to be drawn up at this time. It therefore confined itself to outlining the avenues where a possible compromise could be found in order to prompt debate amongst the Ministers.

Over the two days, the Foreign Affairs Ministers' discussions focused on budgetary procedure , the scope of qualified majority voting and the Commission. Some delegations had reservations about the Presidency's proposals after the meeting of the "focal points" and asked for new adjustments to be made. After the two days, given the number of points which still had to be tackled, the Presidency decided to schedule another ministerial meeting for 24 May.

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The eighth ministerial meeting - 24 May 2004

At that stage of the negotiations, the Presidency thought that the time had come for a general discussion on the state of play. The Presidency encouraged Ministers to make comments, especially on the trickiest institutional issues which had not yet been discussed collectively.

In preparation for this ministerial meeting, the Presidency circulated two separate documents. The first was, in effect, a summary of the bilateral discussions. The Presidency saw this as opening up possibilities for a compromise on the system of voting in the Council and the distribution of seats in Parliament. The second document dealt with the budgetary procedure and was the outcome of previous ministerial debates.

During the meeting, the discussions mainly hinged on the definition of a qualified majority but the Ministers also discussed the delicate question of the preamble. The Presidency's proposal on the budgetary procedure was received favourably.

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The ninth ministerial meeting - 14 June 2004

The Presidency published two documents to prepare the ground for the final Ministerial meeting before the decisive meeting of the European Council. The first contained formal Presidency proposals on several points taking account of reservations expressed by some delegations on the document distributed after the meeting of the "focal points". This document also included questions on which the Presidency thought that a broad consensus had now been reached.

The Presidency felt that the document constituted an even-handed compromise between the delegations' different points of view. By presenting the document on the eve of the final Ministerial session, the Presidency wished to ensure that no problem of any substance still remained. In total a compromise was close in over 40 areas.

The second document provided the basis for the discussions of the ninth Ministerial meeting and covered all the other open questions except the institutional ones. The Presidency prepared proposals on several points, particularly the scope of qualified majority voting, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the preamble and some questions relating to economic policy.

The Presidency had the twin aim of confirming the consensus it thought it had brought about on the points mentioned in the first document and ensuring that no additional discussion would be necessary and paving the way for and resolving as many of the remaining problems as possible before the Summit itself. During the discussions, progress was made, especially with regard to the scope of qualified majority voting. Many delegations expressly welcomed the Presidency's proposals which apparently constituted a fair compromise between the various standpoints.

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The European Council meeting of June 2004: the final agreement on the Constitution

The Ministerial discussions enabled the Presidency to prepare two new documents which were used as a basis for discussions by the European Council. The first contained texts on which the Presidency thought a consensus had been reached for overall agreement. The document included in its 57 annexes the texts of two documents published for the Ministerial meeting of 14 June, amended following the discussions at Ministerial level. The Presidency hoped that an overall agreement could be found on the basis of these proposals.

The second document contained the questions which were still open. As regards the institutional questions (voting in the Council, the Commission and the Parliament), the Presidency presented its proposal for increasing the States and population thresholds necessary to produce a qualified majority. Moreover, it suggested possible additional clauses to facilitate a compromise. As regards the other six annexes, except for the question of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, they were related to economic policy, especially the declaration on the Stability Pact and the procedure for excessive deficits.

The European Council started with a debate on the IGC on the afternoon of 17 June, which was interrupted by a dinner for the nomination of the new President of the Commission. The morning of the second day was devoted to the normal session of the European Council.

In the light of these initial discussions and the bilateral meetings with the delegations (the so-called "confessionals"), the Presidency produced a new proposal in which it asked the Heads of State and Government to give their agreement on the questions set out in document IGC 81/04 supplemented by this new proposal. For the first time the Presidency proposed a solution for voting in the Council in the form of articles of the Treaty including various clauses for a compromise. Some annexes were taken from document 81/04 and amended in the light of the discussions.

A discussion on this document took place on 18 June and focused mainly on the voting system. During lunch, the Heads of State and Government discussed the non-institutional questions which were still open. After a final series of bilateral meetings, the Presidency submitted its final proposal during the evening. This included amendments of the previous proposals, especially regarding the voting system, and included the final questions raised by the delegations such as transport and energy policies and Eurojust.

The Presidency thought that the document constituted a basis for an overall balanced agreement which should enable the draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe to be adopted. It asked the Conference to give its agreement.

During a final round of discussions towards 10 p.m., the Heads of State and Government gave their agreement on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.

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THE RESULTS OF THE IGC 2003/2004

The outcome of the IGC is set out in several documents: the text of the Convention revised by the legal experts (the various IGC 50/03 documents), the Presidency's proposal on the eve of the European Council (document IGC 81/04) and the final agreement which adds to and amends these documents (document IGC 85/04). In the interests of transparency, the Secretariat-General of the Council published a provisional consolidated version constituting the outcome of the IGC 2003/2004:

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Finalisation of the texts

Legal and linguistic experts worked throughout the summer of 2004 on the final version of the Constitutional Treaty to avoid any linguistic ambiguity as the Constitution will be legally binding in all the official languages. The final text, which contains a new continuous numbering system for the Articles of the Constitutional Treaty, was made public on 6 August 2004 and will be followed by corrections during the autumn:

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Signature of the Constitution

The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed on 29 October 2004 in Rome, as were the founding treaties on 25 March 1957. This was followed by the ratification procedure in the 25 Member States in accordance with their constitutional rules. 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. At the European Council meeting on 21 and 22 June 2007, European leaders reached a compromise and agreed to convene an IGC to finalise and adopt, not a Constitution, but a "reform treaty" for the European Union.

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