Archives Archives Archives Archives
The outcome of the European Convention
The last fifteen years of European integration have been marked by a series of Treaty revisions. Each revision was prepared by an intergovernmental conference (IGC) bringing together representatives of the governments of the Member States. The last two IGCs, which culminated in the signing of the Treaties of Amsterdam in 1997 and Nice in 2001, did not provide satisfactory answers to key institutional questions, despite their importance on the eve of enlargement. Following the adoption of the Treaty of Nice, in particular, it became necessary to undertake more wide-ranging institutional reform than a mere adaptation of the institutions in the light of enlargement.
This is why the Declaration on the future of the Union annexed to the Treaty of Nice agreed politically by the Heads of State or Government at the Nice European Council of December 2000 already outlined the remaining steps in the process of institutional reform.
The Declaration therefore called for a deeper and wider debate about the future of the European Union (EU), the adoption by the Laeken European Council of December 2001 of a declaration specifying the themes of the debate and the reform method adopted and, finally, the convening of a new IGC in 2004. In addition, the Nice Declaration attached to the Final Act from the 2000 IGC already identified four themes which the institutional debate should address.
At its meeting in Laeken in December 2001, the European Council announced that it had opted for the creation of a Convention to bring about reform. The choice of a Convention represented a departure from previous treaty revisions and reflected the desire to do away with in camera meetings attended only by Heads of Government. The establishment of the Convention was an institutional innovation, despite the precedent created by the Convention that drew up the Fundamental Rights Charter. This new type of body was charged with preparing the subsequent IGC in as transparent and open a manner as possible by involving the main stakeholders in the debate: representatives of the governments of the Member States and the candidate countries, representatives of national parliaments, representatives of the European Parliament and the European Commission, and observers from the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee and the European social partners.
The Laeken Declaration also defined the substance of the debate in the form of 60 questions relating to the future of the Union, grouped together under four major themes:
- better division and definition of competences;
- simplification of the instruments;
- more democracy, transparency and efficiency in the European Union (democratic legitimacy and transparency of the institutions, role of national parliaments, decision-making and the functioning of the institutions in an enlarged Union); and
- paving the way for a constitution for the people of Europe (simplification and reorganisation of the Treaties, inclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the possible adoption of a constitutional text).
The Laeken Declaration provided that the final document drawn up by the Convention could comprise "either different options, indicating the degree of support which they received, or recommendations if consensus is achieved". In addition, it was agreed that the Chairman of the Convention would give an oral progress report at each European Council meeting. Finally, it had already been agreed that the final document would provide a starting point for discussions in the Intergovernmental Conference that would eventually take the ultimate decisions.
[ Top ]
The Convention met for the first time on 28 February 2002 and completed its work on 18 July 2003 with its Chairman, Mr ValÚry Giscard d'Estaing, submitting the final draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe to the Italian Presidency. In accordance with the mandate given to it by the Laeken Declaration, the Convention was charged with the task of making proposals for institutional reform. As it turned out, its work went beyond this simple initial task and led to the drawing up of a draft constitution, i.e., a consolidated and simplified version of the various existing Treaties, or new founding text.
To complete this project successfully, the Convention brought together 105 members and their alternates for the entire duration of its work.
The European Council appointed Mr ValÚry Giscard d'Estaing as Chairman of the Convention and Mr Giuliano Amato and Mr Jean Luc Dehaene as Vice-Chairmen. In addition to these three personalities, the Convention was composed of:
- 15 representatives of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States (one per Member State);
- 13 representatives of the Heads of State or Government of the candidate countries (one per candidate country);
- 30 representatives of the national parliaments of the Member States (two per Member State);
- 26 representatives of the national parliaments of the candidate countries (two per candidate country);
- 16 representatives of the European Parliament; and
- two representatives of the European Commission.
The Economic and Social Committee (three representatives), the Committee of the Regions (six representatives), the social partners (three representatives) and the European Ombudsman were invited to take part as observers.
The candidate countries also took full part in the discussions without, however, being able to prevent a consensus that might emerge among the Member States. Once the Accession Treaty with the 10 candidate countries had been signed, their observers became full members of the Convention.
The work of the Convention was directed by a Praesidium composed of the Chairman of the Convention, the Vice-Chairmen, two representatives of the European Parliament (Mr Mendez de Vigo and Mr Klaus Hńnsch), two representatives of the Commission (Mr Barnier and Mr Vittorino), two representatives of the national parliaments and representatives of the Spanish, Danish and Greek governments (the countries holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union during the work of the Convention).
The Praesidium met regularly (normally twice a month before each plenary session of the Convention and once a month between sessions) and played a key role in drawing up draft agendas for the plenary sessions and supervising activities.
Finally, the Convention was assisted by a Secretariat, which prepared the Convention working documents, drafted discussion papers and summarised the proceedings.
[ Top ]
The work of the Convention was split in three phases: a listening phase, a studying phase and a drafting phase. The Convention met at the European Parliament in Brussels once or twice a month in plenary sessions lasting two to three days. The Praesidium held preparatory meetings between the plenary sessions and, during the final phase, met to draft the articles likely to meet with a consensus within the Convention.
The work of the Convention began with a listening phase characterised by numerous contacts with civil society. The Convention initiated wide trans-European debate at several levels:
- a website enabled citizens to participate directly;
- conferences organised in the Member States and the candidate countries helped launch national debates; and
- the presence of observers from the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the regions, the social partners and Non-Governmental Organisations ensured diversity in the contributions.
The Convention placed particular emphasis on the participation of young people. A Youth Convention was organised to enable young people to formulate their vision for Europe. It was held on 10-12 July 2002 and its proposals were subsequently presented to the Praesidium. Contact groups were also set up to serve as points for meetings and dialogue with civil society on themes such as the environment, culture, the regions, etc.
The first plenary session of the Convention was devoted to the practical organisation of the listening phase and to the adoption of the Convention's working methods. In line with the chosen working methods, the Convention set out to secure consensus for its proposals, without recourse to voting, even for the final version of the text. The point of this was to avoid submitting to the European Council a final text containing options.
Once the listening phase had been concluded, the members of the Convention entered
a working phase in which they gave shape to their visions, debated the texts and
proposed amendments and slowly edged towards a final text.
To prepare the debates on certain subjects, the Convention decided to set up 11 separate working groups on:
- the role of the principle of subsidiarity;
- the future of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights;
- the legal personality of the Union;
- the role of national parliaments;
- complementary powers;
- economic governance;
- external action;
- the simplification of procedures and instruments;
- the area of freedom, security and justice; and
- social Europe.
These working groups, whose discussions were open to all interested members of the Convention, were charged with the task of finding a consensus on the various proposals and presenting the results of their discussions to the Convention, which would then decide on any outstanding details. From the second half of 2002, the Convention thus found itself in a detailed studying phase. Its discussions were intended to identify those points on which a consensus was likely and those proposals on which no agreement was likely.
In October 2002, the Chairman of the Convention submitted the structure of the constitutional text, in preliminary draft form, to the Brussels European Council. Discussions continued on the various subjects, including institutional reform and the working group results, while the Praesidium was drawing up the first version of the articles in Part I of the future constitutional treaty.
In February 2003, the Convention entered the final phase of its work: drafting articles, discussing amendments and seeking compromise. At each plenary session, the Praesidium proposed new articles which were discussed by the Convention. Proposals on which a consensus was obtained were subsequently incorporated into the text by the Praesidium. Step by step, the draft constitutional treaty was taking shape.
In view of the number of amendments and time constraints, it became increasingly clear that it would not be possible to conclude the work of the Convention in time for the June 2003 Thessaloniki European Council. The Convention therefore decided to focus its efforts on completing Parts I and II of the text and on reaching a compromise on the institutional reform of the Union. The final version of the first two parts were submitted to the European Council on 20 June 2003.
Parts III and IV of the draft constitution remained to be discussed at a plenary session in July 2003. Draft amendments relating to the policies of the Union and to qualified majority voting were discussed again and incorporated into the final text submitted to the Italian Presidency on 18 July 2003 in Rome.
After 17 months of work and discussions, the Convention had completed its task and was able to propose a draft Treaty, establishing a Constitution for Europe, to the citizens of Europe.
[ Top ]
The Convention reached a consensus on a draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. This is a single document with no options. This final draft was designed to replace all the Treaties accumulated over 50 years by a single new constitutional Treaty.
The draft constitutional Treaty is divided into four major parts. Following a constitution-type Preamble recalling the history and heritage of Europe and its determination to transcend its divisions, Part I is devoted to the principles, objectives and institutional provisions governing the new European Union. Divided into nine Titles, Part I covers:
- definition and objectives of the Union;
- fundamental rights and citizenship of the Union;
- Union competences;
- the Union's institutions;
- the exercise of Union competence;
- the democratic life of the Union;
- the Union's finances;
- the Union and its immediate environment; and
- membership of the European Union.
Part II of the draft constitution comprises the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. This Part contains seven Titles, preceded by a Preamble:
- citizens' rights;
- justice; and
- general provisions.
Part III comprises the provisions governing the policies and functioning of the Union. The internal and external policies of the Union are laid down in this Part, including the provisions on the internal market, on economic and monetary union, on the area of freedom, security and justice, on the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and on the functioning of the institutions. Part III also contains seven titles:
- clauses of general application;
- non-discrimination and citizenship;
- internal policies and action;
- association of the overseas countries and territories;
- the Union's external action;
- the functioning of the Union; and
- common provisions.
Part IV groups together the general and final provisions of the draft constitution, including entry into force, the procedure for revising the Constitution and the repeal of earlier Treaties.
- The Convention proposed to annex the following five protocols and three declarations to the Treaty establishing the Constitution:
- protocol on the role of national parliaments in the European Union;
- protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;
- protocol on the representation of citizens in the European Parliament and the weighting of votes in the European Council and the Council of Ministers (including the declaration on Romania and Bulgaria);
- protocol on the Euro Group;
- protocol amending the Euratom Treaty;
- declaration on the creation of a European external action service; and
- declaration in the final act of signature of the Treaty establishing the Constitution.
[ Top ]
In the interest of clarity, the main innovations in the draft constitutional Treaty have been grouped together in four Chapters, as summarised below.
The founding principles of the Union
- The values and objectives of the Union are consecrated, as are the rights of European citizens, thanks to the incorporation into the Constitution of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
- The Union is accorded a single legal personality (merger of the European Community with the European Union).
- The competences (exclusive, shared and supporting) and their distribution between the Member States and the Union are defined clearly and permanently.
- For the first time, with the introduction of a voluntary withdrawal clause, Member States may withdraw from the Union.
- The instruments of action available to the Union are simplified, reducing their number from 15 to six, as is the terminology, with regulations and directives being replaced by European laws and European framework laws.
- For the first time, the democratic underpinnings of the Union, including participatory democracy, are defined and a genuine right of citizens' initiative is introduced.
- The seats in the European Parliament will be distributed on a degressively proportional basis.
- The European Council, headed by a President elected for two and a half years, is formally institutionalised and the rotating Presidency of the Union is discarded.
- The Council of Ministers, which will convene as the Legislative Council when adopting legal acts, is reformed.
- A smaller Commission is established, comprising a College of 15 members and a number of non-voting Commissioners and subject to a fair system of rotation between these groups.
- The President of the Commission is to be elected by the European Parliament.
- A Minister for Foreign Affairs attached to the Council is to be appointed, taking over the tasks of the External Relations Commissioner and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
- A new qualified majority system is established, in which the majority of the Member States representing three-fifths of the population will amount to a qualified majority.
- Qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers has been extended to about 20 legal bases for Union internal policies and action.
- Several "passerelle" (switchover) clauses are created for facilitating subsequent extensions of qualified majority voting.
- The joint adoption of European laws and framework laws by the European Parliament and the Council is to become the norm (normal legislative procedure).
- Economic coordination between the countries that have adopted the Euro is to be improved and the informal role of the Euro Group is to be recognised.
- The pillar structure is to be abolished: the second (common foreign and security policy) and third (justice and home affairs) pillars, which were hitherto subject to the intergovernmental method, are brought within the Community framework.
- The common foreign and security policy is strengthened with the creation of a European Minister for Foreign Affairs and the progressive definition of a common defence policy with the creation of a European Armaments Agency and the authorisation to initiate enhanced cooperation.
- A genuine area of freedom, security and justice is to be created through the planned implementation of common policies on asylum, immigration and external border control, the development of Europol and Eurojust actions and the creation of a European Public Prosecutor's Office.
[ Top ]
The text submitted by the Convention is a draft intended to serve as a basis for the work of the IGC, which alone is empowered to take final decisions on the content of the future Treaty establishing a Constitution for the Union.
The IGC began its work on 4 October 2003 during a meeting of the Heads of State or Government in Rome. It is being conducted at the highest level, with only the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Heads of State or Government involved in discussing the proposals submitted by the Convention. The Chairman of the Convention is not taking part in the IGC, but observers from the European Parliament are invited to attend.
For more than two months, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Heads of State or Government met regularly with a view to finding a compromise. The initial meetings and stands taken were marked by a degree of uncertainty, with some countries wanting to reopen discussions on aspects on which the Convention had reached a consensus. The risk posed by a reopening of the discussions was that each government would seek to push its own national positions, leading to the re-emergence of the system of reciprocal concessions which proved so detrimental during the last IGC.
The Brussels European Council of 12-13 December 2003 did not reach an overall agreement on the Constitution. In fact, the Member States failed to reach agreement on two basic issues, i.e. the future arrangements for qualified majority voting in the Council and the composition of the Commission.
The intergovernmental conference therefore asked the Irish Presidency to continue the consultations. With a political agreement reached on 18 June 2004 following the work of the IGC, the draft Constitution was sent to the Heads of State who all signed it on 29 October 2004.
The ratification of the Constitution was the final stage prior to its entry into force. It 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.
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. The final text of the treaty, drawn up by the IGC, was approved at the informal European Council in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October. The Treaty of Lisbon was signed by the Member States on 13 December 2007.
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 Convention.