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The Union's founding principles

Membership of the Union

Conditions of eligibility and procedure for accession to the Union
Suspension of Union membership rights
Voluntary withdrawal
Summary table


The Convention proposes minor changes to the rules governing membership of the Union and the procedure for accession. The Copenhagen criteria, which were drawn up during the European Council held in the Danish capital in 1993 and which defined the conditions which must be met so that a new Member State can join the Union, have not been included in the draft constitution.

There has been no change to the rules concerning the possibility of depriving a Member State of some of its rights if it infringes the Union's fundamental values.

On the other hand, the Convention proposes a voluntary withdrawal clause which, for the first time, gives Member States the option of withdrawing from the Union. This is a major innovation.

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Article I-1 of the draft constitutional treaty provides that "the Union shall be open to all European States which respect its values and are committed to promoting them together".

The conditions for eligibility and the procedure for accession are laid down in Article I-57 of the draft constitution. As compared with the rules of the existing treaties, the Convention does not propose any major change. Article I-57 stipulates that "the Union shall be open to all European States which respect the values referred to in Article I-2". This Article includes a number of supplementary criteria, by comparison with the existing Treaty, hence including human dignity and equality and specifying that the societies of the Member States must be characterised by "pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination".

The Convention maintains the procedure for accession. Every request for accession is submitted for the approval of the European Parliament , but the majority required in the future will be a simple majority of the votes (as compared with the absolute majority of Members of Parliament today). Hence the approval procedure has been made easier.

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The existing treaties provide for the possibility of suspending Union membership rights, if the existence of a serious and persistent breach of the Union's fundamental values on the part of a Member State is ascertained. In such a case the Council of Ministers may suspend the Member State's right to vote as well as certain other rights which have been vested in it by the Constitution. The draft constitutional treaty does not make any basic alteration to these rules. In the procedure, only the possible consultation of independent personalities ("the Committee of the Wise") has been deleted.

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The existing treaties do not contain any exit clause for a Member State which wishes to withdraw from the Union and they have been concluded for an indeterminate period. The only precedent in this connection is the withdrawal of Greenland in 1985. Having become independent from Denmark in 1979, Greenland then decided to leave the Union. This withdrawal was possible following an amendment of the Treaties ratified by all the Member States. The Convention proposes introducing into Article I-59 of the Constitution a voluntary withdrawal clause, which is a major innovation.

Withdrawal may take place at any time and is not bound up with revisions of the Constitution or other conditions. The Member State which wishes to withdraw notifies the European Council , which examines this notification. The Union negotiates a withdrawal agreement with the Member State in question, which sets out the arrangements for its withdrawal and regulates the future relationship between this State and the Union. The Council of Ministers concludes this agreement on the part of the Union, acting by a qualified majority, and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. Note that the representative of the withdrawing Member State may not participate in the discussions or in the vote at the Council.

The Constitution will then cease to apply to the State in question from the date laid down in the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification of the European Council. This implies that the withdrawal may enter into force even if the Union has not given its consent. This voluntary withdrawal clause is therefore a major innovation. The members of the Convention considered that each country should be free to leave the Union under acceptable conditions for all parties and guaranteeing their respective rights.

A Member State which has withdrawn from the Union may re-join, without the normal accession procedure referred to in Article I-57.

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Articles Subject Comments
I-1 Establishment of the Union -
I-2 The Union's values Significant changes
I-57 Conditions of eligibility and procedure for accession to the Union -
I-58 Suspension of Union membership rights -
I-59 Voluntary withdrawal from the Union New provisions

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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 Convention.

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