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EUROPA > Summaries of legislation > The founding principles of the Union


The founding principles of the Union

Values and objectives of the Union

Establishment of the Union
The values of the Union
The objectives of the Union
The fundamental principles
The symbols of the Union
The fundamental rights
Summary table


The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe is preceded by a Preamble which recalls, among other things, Europe's cultural, religious and humanist inheritance, and invokes the desire of the peoples of Europe to transcend their ancient divisions in order to forge a common destiny, while remaining proud of their national identities and history.

The Preamble largely takes over the same themes as those addressed in the Preambles to the existing Treaties. New themes are also added, such as humanism and reason and the national identities of peoples. The Preamble refers to the work accomplished within the framework of the Treaties establishing the European Communities (EC Treaty) and the Treaty on European Union (EU Treaty), and expresses gratitude to the members of the European Convention for having prepared the draft of the Constitutional Treaty on behalf of the citizens and States of Europe.

Although Title I of Part I of the Constitutional Treaty is called "Definition and objectives of the Union", the citizen will not find therein any precise definition of the European Union listing its characteristic features. The definition is provided indirectly in the first eight Articles, which concern the establishment of the Union, the Union's values and objectives, fundamental freedoms and non-discrimination, relations between the Union and the Member States, Union law, legal personality and the symbols of the Union.

Title II of Part I contains provisions relating to fundamental rights (Article I-9) and citizenship (Article I-10). Moreover, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which hitherto had no legal force, is integrated into the Constitution and reproduced in Part II of the text of the Constitution. This represents a major step forward.

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In Article I-1, the Constitution established the European Union, reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe to build a common future. The Member States confer competences on the Union to attain objectives they have in common, and the Union coordinates the policies by which the Member States aim to achieve these objectives, and exercises on a Community basis the competences conferred on it by the Constitution.

The formula used in Article 1 is constitutional in nature, since it is stated that "the Constitution establishes the European Union", whereas in the existing Treaties it is the "High Contracting Parties" that establish the Union and the Community among themselves. This language specific to international Treaties is replaced by a new formula which highlights the constitutional nature of the new Treaty.

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The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values, which are set out in Article I-2, are common to the Member States. Moreover, the societies of the Member States are characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. These values play an important role, especially in two specific cases. Firstly, under the procedure for accession set out in Article I-58, any European State wishing to become a member of the Union must respect these values in order to be considered eligible for admission. Secondly, failure by a Member State to respect these values may lead to the suspension of that Member State's rights deriving from membership of the Union (Article I-59).

In comparison with the existing Treaties, the Constitution has included new values, notably human dignity, equality, the rights of minorities and the characterization of the values upheld by the societies of the Member States.

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Article I-3 of the Constitutional Treaty, which covers the internal and external objectives of the Union, merges the provisions of the EU Treaty and those of the EC Treaty. These objectives must guide the Union in the defining and implementation of all its policies.

The main objectives of the Union are now to promote peace, the Union's values and the well-being of its peoples.

These general objectives are supplemented by a list of more detailed objectives:

In addition, the Union respects cultural and linguistic diversity and ensures that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.

To the objectives already set out in the existing Treaties, the Constitution thus adds the promotion of scientific and technological advance, of solidarity between generations and of the protection of children's rights. Economic and social cohesion now additionally acquires a territorial dimension. Cultural and linguistic diversity, and the safeguarding and enhancing of Europe's cultural heritage, also become Union objectives.

Paragraph 4 of Article I-3 is devoted to the Union's promotion of its values and interests in its relations with the rest of the world. This paragraph brings together the objectives from the EU Treaty relating to the common foreign and security policy, and the provisions of the EC Treaty relating to development cooperation:

The Constitution includes as a new objective the protection of children's rights on the international stage.

Finally, in Part III of the Constitutional Treaty, Articles III-115 to III-122 contain provisions relating to more specific requirements which the Union must fulfil in implementing the Constitution, in particular, equality between men and women, the combating of discrimination, requirements relating to employment and social policy, protection of the environment and consumers and consideration for the specific nature of services of general economic interest.

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Article I-4 of the Constitution guarantees the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the Union (the famous "four freedoms") and strictly prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality.

As regards relations between the Union and the Member States, the Constitutional Treaty brings together the relevant provisions of the existing Treaties in Article I-5, in particular the obligation to respect the national identities and the fundamental political and constitutional structures of the Member States. The principle of loyal cooperation is also included in this Article.

Article I-6 of the Constitutional Treaty is devoted to Union law. It lays down the principle of the primacy of the law of the European Union over the law of the Member States. This principle, which has been developed by the Court of Justice in its case-law, has long been recognised to be a basic principle and a key aspect of the functioning of the Union. The Constitution simply gives it a higher profile by incorporating it into a key part of the Treaty.

Article I-7 confers on the European Union legal personality. Following the merger of the European Community and the European Union, the new Union will therefore have the right to conclude international agreements , in the same way as the European Community can today, but without compromising the division of competences between the Union and the Member States.

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Article I-8 lists the symbols of the Union:

The Constitution does not create new symbols. Rather, it takes the symbols that are already used by the EU and are familiar to ordinary citizens and gives them constitutional status.

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As regards the protection of fundamental rights, the Constitution makes significant advances. Article I-9 of the Constitutional Treaty reproduces the guarantee of fundamental rights provided in the EU Treaty and refers to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and to the constitutional traditions common to the Member States. This Article also opens the way for the Union to seek formal accession to the ECHR. Fundamental rights therefore form part of Union law as general principles.

A protocol annexed to the Constitution provides that the accession of the Union to the ECHR must preserve the specific characteristics of the Union and Union law and not affect the specific situation of Member States in relation to the ECHR. Moreover, a declaration annexed to the Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) notes the existence of a regular dialogue between the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights, which could be reinforced when the Union accedes to that Convention.

In addition, the Constitutional Treaty includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was solemnly proclaimed at the Nice European Council in December 2000, in Part II of the Constitution. The European Union therefore acquires for itself a catalogue of fundamental rights which will be legally binding not only on the Union, its institutions, agencies and bodies, but also on the Member States as regards the implementation of Union law. The inclusion of the Charter in the Constitution does not compromise the division of competences between the Union and the Member States.

The inclusion of the Charter in the Constitutional Treaty will make it more visible to all citizens, who will be better informed of their rights. The Charter also contains additional rights not contained in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, such as workers' social rights, data protection, bioethics or the right to good administration.

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Articles Subject Comments
I-1 Establishment of the Union -
I-2 The values of the Union Significant changes
I-3 The objectives of the Union Significant changes
I-4 Fundamental freedoms and non-discrimination -
I-5 Relations between the Union and Member States -
I-6 Union law New provisions
I-7 Legal personality New provisions
I-8 The symbols of the Union New provisions
I-9 Fundamental rights New provisions
I-10 Citizenship of the Union Significant changes
I-58 Conditions of eligibility and procedure for accession to the Union -
I-59 Suspension of Union membership rights -
Part II The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union -
Declaration on Article I-9 Accession to the ECHR -

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The fact sheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Constitution.

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