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A good day for Europe

Steinmeier, Merkel The German Council Presidency has overcome a mammoth task in Brussels: after almost 36 hours of negotiations, it has paved the way for treaty reform in the EU – with the participation of Poland. It was no easy job. But it was worth it. An intergovernmental conference will now draw up the new treaty in detail.

“We have achieved what we set out to do”, said Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel following the conclusion of the talks on Saturday morning. Europe, she said, had broken the deadlock; the new mandate was a “community effort”.

The intergovernmental conference is to establish by the end of the year which amendments are needed for the new treaty basis. This is to enter into force, as planned, in 2009.

What were the sticking points?

One of the most problematic points concerned the future system for reaching majority decisions in the EU Council of Ministers. The draft constitution had envisaged the double majority principle, according to which decisions require the approval of 55 percent of the Member States with at least 65 percent of the EU population.

The Summit almost failed because of this issue. Poland was extremely reluctant, and even planned to veto the proposal.

According to the Treaty of Nice currently in force, Poland, with its population of around 40 million, has 27 votes in the Council. Germany, which has almost twice the number of inhabitants, has 29 votes. Under the double majority system, Poland loses votes in the Council, while Germany gains influence.

Solution: the double majority system will only enter into force in 2014. Furthermore, in the event of a dispute, Member States may invoke the Treaty of Nice and demand the postponement of an undesired decision until 2017.

The United Kingdom, for its part, had reservations about the legal status of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It argued that the Charter should not become legally binding in British law and should thus not be incorporated into the reformed treaty basis.

Solution: the Charter of Fundamental Rights is no longer part of the Treaties. However, it is to be rendered legally binding by a reference in the latter. An exception applies in the case of the United Kingdom.

The appointment of an EU Foreign Minister as the chief diplomat of the EU was also the subject of reservations on the British side.

Solution: the functions of the EU High Representative for the CSFP and the External Affairs Commissioner will be merged into the new office of High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The former posts are currently held by the Spaniard Javier Solana and the Austrian Benita Ferrero-Waldner. With the creation of the new office, EU foreign policy will be given a single profile for the first time.

The intergovernmental conference is to establish by the end of the year which amendments are needed for the new treaty basis. This is to enter into force, as planned, in 2009.

From Constitution to Treaty

The negative referenda outcomes were perceived in some Member States as an expression of citizens’ fears of a European super state. This fear needed to be addressed. The 27 Member States were in agreement from the beginning of the Summit that the term “constitution” was no longer to be used.

The European Treaties will instead be reformed by an amending treaty. The new treaty basis will also contain no references to state-like symbols or an anthem.

Further reforms

The EU will in future have a full-time Council President, who will chair the European Council for two and a half years. This will replace the system of the rotating Presidency, and allow for greater continuity.

National competences are to be strengthened: national parliaments will now have eight weeks in which to raise objections against draft legislative acts, should they feel that these infringe national competence. The European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers will in future have equal powers in deciding the EU budget.

The number of Commissioners is to be reduced: from 27 to 15, by 2014.

Member States – such as the United Kingdom – will be able to opt out of EU decisions on closer cooperation in judicial and police matters. They may also opt out of the common policy in social affairs. If no agreement has been reached within four months, Member States wishing to move forward may do so.

Germany had been given the mandate to draw up a road map for treaty reform back in the middle of 2006. The background to this was negative outcome of referenda on the draft constitution in France and the Netherlands in spring 2005. This had been followed by a two-year period of reflection, which had come to an end. A new treaty needed to be ratified by all the Member States before the election of the European Parliament in 2009, in order to ensure that the enlarged EU would remain able to act beyond this point.

At the beginning of the week, the German Presidency had outlined the status of negotiations on treaty reform to the other 26 Member States. In turn, each of these had expressed its views and wishes. The search for compromises could then begin.

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Date: 23.06.2007