EU Policy Areas/Activities
EU Draft Constitution - Points of Particular Relevance to Local and Regional Authorities
The EU is currently governed by several treaties that have been revised on a number of occasions during its 50-year history. The three original Treaties founding the European Communities were the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the Treaty establishing the European Community (1957) and the Treaty establishing the Atomic Energy Community (1957). The fourth founding treaty is the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), which established the European Union.
The founding treaties have been amended by the Merger Treaty (1965), the Single European Act (1986), the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) and the Treaty of Nice (2001), which has been in force since 1 February 2003. The Accession Treaties signed with new Member States also lead to treaty amendments.
The "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe" (Constitutional Treaty) is a single text which would replace all the existing Treaties and give the European Union a single legal personality under domestic and international law.
THE NEW CONSTITUTIONAL TREATY
The overall objectives of the proposals contained in the new Constitution are:
- to improve the transparency and efficiency of the EU and provide it with the necessary flexibility to develop in ambitious new directions;
- to describe the EU's values, objectives and competences;
- to merge the EU's basic treaties into a single text;
- to increase the influence of the European Parliament; and
- to create the post of EU foreign minister with a view to increasing the leverage of the EU internationally.
The text proposes a number of changes to the current institutional framework of the EU and to its legislative and decision-making processes.
Among the changes are the following:
A new EU President
The European Council, which brings together the Heads of State and Governments of the EU's Member States, will become an institution and will, following ratification of the Constitution, be chaired by a President which will be appointed for a two and a half year term, renewable once. Therefore, this position (recently held by Berti Ahern) will no longer rotate on a six-month basis. However, the presidency of the different Council formations (Environment, Agriculture, etc..), with the exception of the External Relations Council, will continue to rotate on an equal basis every 6 months, to be decided upon by the European Council.
One Commissioner per country until 2014
The current principle of one Commissioner per Member State will be maintained until 2014. From 2014, the number of Commissioners will be reduced to two-thirds of the number of Member States (including both its President and the EU Minister for Foreign Affairs). The Commissioners will be chosen on the basis of equal rotation among the Member States
A new voting system
The definition of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) was one of the toughest items on the Council's agenda. It was finally agreed that Council decision-making would in future rely on a "double majority", i.e. of Member States and citizens of the EU. This double majority equates to 55 per cent (and at least 15) of the Member States representing at least 65 per cent of the EU's population (see appendix 1 for EU population figures). In order to prevent three (bigger) Member States from being able to block a decision, the Council also decided that a "blocking minority" (those opposing a position) must represent 35.01% of the EU population coming from at least four Member States. The new voting system is due to take effect from 1 November 2009.
'Permanent structured co-operation' will be put in place in the area of defence enabling a group of Member States to build closer co-operation and to jointly undertake more complex military tasks. In the area of common foreign and security policy, Member States will be able to build 'enhanced co-operation' conditional upon a unanimous decision of the Council. The core group will then be able to decide whether to adopt qualified majority voting or the ordinary legislative procedure.
In all other areas covered by the Constitution, the Member States that wish to co-operate more closely together must request the Commission to submit a proposal to the Council specifying the scope and objectives of the co-operation. The Council grants authorisation via a European decision and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
The incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights
The Treaty includes a Charter of Citizens' Fundamental Rights, which aims to give citizens greater clarity and certainty as to their rights arising from citizenship of the EU. This includes some highly sensitive issues such as workers' rights to strike. The provisions of the Charter will be judiciable in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The text stipulates that the ECJ must take "due consideration" of national laws in these areas when reaching judgments. However the final decision on how to balance the contents of the Charter and the "explanations" of national circumstances will be left to the judges in Luxembourg.
Other new provisions in the Constitutional Treaty:
New legal bases in areas such as energy, sport, tourism, space travel and administrative co-operation;
A solidarity clause in the case of a terrorist attack.
A new exit clause will allow Member States to leave the Union.
The UK and Ireland managed to get opt-outs on asylum and immigration policy, civil law and police co-operation in a special Protocol.
POINTS OF PARTICULAR RELEVANCE TO LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES
The new Constitution has been welcomed by European associations of local and regional authorities as "a major step forward in building a strong united Europe which properly recognises the role of the local and regional spheres of government." The Constitution includes the following points of specific importance to local and regional government:
|Article I-5 explicitly refers to the recognition of regional and local self-government as part of the national identities of the Member States|
|Article I-9 extends the concept of Subsidiary to include the regional and local levels (i.e. the Union should only act where the objective of the action cannot be achieved by the member states at central, regional or local level). Article I-45 also confirms that decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizen.|
|Article I-46 and a new Protocol on Subsidiarity require effective consultation by the Commission with local and regional authorities on new legislative proposals, in particular on their local and regional dimension.|
|The Protocol on Subsidiarity also requires the Commission to assess and take into account the financial and administrative impact on local and regional governments of proposed new legislation.|
|The principle of Territorial Cohesion is recognised amongst the shared competences of the Union, enabling the needs of Europe's regions and areas of need to be better taken into account in future.|
|Special State aid derogations for the EU's outlying regions are to be reinforced by an addition to Article III- 56.3a. Particular attention will also be given to State aid to rural areas, regions in industrial decline, sparsely-populated Eastern regions, insular, border and mountain areas (Article III-116).|
|Article III-270 grants to the Committee of the Regions the right to institute proceedings before the Court of Justice to defend its prerogatives.|
|The Constitution also provides for the extension of the term of office of the Committee of the Regions to 5 years, which in due course may be co-terminus with that of the Parliament and Commission|
In general the new Constitution gives greater recognition to the local and regional dimension within the new architecture of the Union and provides a basis for local and regional authorities to play an enhanced role in the EU policy making process. Of particular significance is the requirement to consult with local and regional authorities at the pre-legislative stage of policy development. However, it remains to be seen how this will be exercised in practice.
- The Constitutional Treaty, which was signed in Rome on 29th October, 2004, under the Dutch EU Presidency, will now undergo a legal review after which it will be translated into all the official languages of the EU.
- Following its signing, the Member States now have two years to ratify the Treaty. The ratification process is likely to vary from Member State to Member State with some favouring direct democracy (via a popular referendum) and others favouring parliamentary democracy. A number of countries have already indicated that they will hold referenda on the constitution. These include: Denmark, Ireland, the UK, Poland, Spain, France and Portugal. Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and others could also go down this route.
- If, however, two years following its signature only four-fifths of the Member States have ratified the Treaty, the European Council will review the situation. Future modifications of the Constitutional Treaty will require the unanimous agreement of the Member States.
- Following ratification not all of the provisions in the Constitutional Treaty will come into force straight away. As indicated above, the new definition of a qualified majority will apply from 1 November 2009, the new distribution of seats in the European Parliament is to come into force for the next parliamentary term (2009), and the rotation system for the Commission will only come into force in 2014.
Text of new Constitution agreed at the 17-18 June Intergovernmental Conference:
The secretariat general of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) has also published the provisional consolidated version of the draft European Constitution, based on the agreed:
European Parliament Future of Europe site:
European Commission Future of Europe site:
Convention on the Future of Europe:
National Forum on Europe (Ireland):