The EU Heads of State and Government talked well into the night in Brussels about giving the EU a new contractual basis. Federal Chancellor Merkel came out of the initial talks feeling optimistic. She felt the atmosphere of the negotiations had been productive and open.
Everyone had the opportunity to express their concerns, she explained at a press conference just before midnight. Everyone wanted a workable solution. Now it was a matter of striking a balance between the views of the majority and the wishes of individuals.
A large number of bilateral meetings will be held on Friday morning. Thereafter the Heads of State and Government will re-convene at around lunchtime.
The German Presidency presented the summary of negotiations on treaty reform to the other 26 Member States at the start of the week and has the aim of agreeing a Council mandate for an intergovernmental conference.
In June 2006 Germany was asked to draw up a roadmap for treaty reform. The goal is to have a new treaty ratified by all Member States by the time of the European Parliament elections in 2009. The background was the rejection of the draft constitution by the people of France and the Netherlands in referenda held in the spring of 2005. Europe then prescribed itself a two-year period of reflection. This period is now at an end.
Even if the Summit fails, Europe will not be incapable of action. It will then just continue to act in accordance with the Treaty of Nice. However, this Treaty is not best suited to a Union of 27 or even more Member States.
A huge task
There are no longer a great number of real problems, but the ones which are left are tough nuts to crack. So far they have not been resolved at working level. Thus the Heads of State and Government of the EU now have to decide.
The German Presidency aims to get the Summit to issue a mandate for a so-called Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). The IGC would then formulate all the details of the new treaty. But such a mandate can only be issued if the meeting in Brussels clears up all the remaining points of dispute.
From constitution to treaty
The rejections of the draft constitution are interpreted in some Member States as expressions of the citizens' fear of a European superstate. This fear must be removed.
The aim now is to reform the European treaties with an amending treaty. So there probably won't be any state-like symbols, or any anthem, in the new treaty.
However, the German EU Council Presidency wants to save as much as possible of the substance of the original draft constitution. It has held consultations with all other Member States and has taken on board numerous changes. The new proposal has now been submitted to the Heads of State and Government as a draft mandate. Some points are still contentious. These include, for instance, the question of whether the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is legally binding.
Who gets how many votes?
One of the most problematic issues is the future voting procedure for majority decisions in the EU Council of Ministers. Poland and the Czech Republic do not agree with the proposal already set forth in the draft constitution.
The draft provides for the principle of the double majority: decisions need to be approved by a majority of 55% of the Member States. And this majority must encompass the approval of 65% of the EU's population.
Under the current Treaty of Nice, Poland, with its 40 million or so inhabitants, has 27 votes in the Council. Germany, which has almost twice as many inhabitants, has 29 votes. Under the double majority system, Poland would lose votes in the Council.
The Polish Government is now arguing that the new EU treaty must be based on the principle of equal influence for the citizens in decision-making. One possibility would be to calculate voting rights on the basis of the square root of the population. While Poland is not insisting on this method of calculation, it argues that a linear calculation – as envisaged in the draft – would favour the big Member States.
It remains unclear what name and competences the EU's chief diplomat will receive. In the draft Constitution, the post of EU Foreign Minister had been planned.
Even before the Council started, the 27 Member States were in agreement on many points, including:
The EU States want to retain the permanent Presidency of the Council with a term of two and a half years as proposed in the draft Constitution. This would be the end of the rotating Presidency.
The powers of the European Parliament are to be bolstered by increasing the number of policy areas where the Parliament and the Council of Ministers take decisions together.
National competences are to be strengthened by extending national parliaments' rights to information.
There are to be fewer commissioners. The number is to be reduced in the medium term from the current 27 to two thirds of the number of Member States.
To date decisions in the Council of Ministers have had to be unanimous in many policy fields. This procedure is to be replaced by qualified-majority voting to reduce the danger of decisions being blocked.