Friday, October 29, 2004

Constitutional changes: what it means

I suppose that if it's not ratified by a referendum (announced for early 2006 by Jack Straw this morning), it doesn't mean much - for the UK at least. But it has been provisionally signed today, so here are the proposed changes it will bring to the way the EU is run:

European Parliament: Maximum number of seats is raised to 750; Minimum number of seats per country - 6; Maximum number of seats per country - 96; Parliament's powers increased - 95 % of European laws will be adopted under the co-decision procedure; Parliament to propose and European Council to adopt a decision by a unanimous vote on the EP's composition before the European elections in 2009

European Commission: One Commissioner per Member State principle maintained until 2014; From November 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

Create an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs: Merges the tasks of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the External Relations Commissioner; Will be a member of the Commission; Will chair the Foreign Affairs Council

Council of Ministers: The presidency of the different Council formations will continue to rotate (with the exception of the External Relations Council) on an equal basis, to be decided upon by the European Council

European Council - Becomes an institution; Will be chaired by a President appointed for two and a half years, renewable once

Introduce qualified majority voting: qualified majority is defined as 55 per cent (but at least 15) of the Member States representing at least 65 per cent of the EU's population. A blocking minority can be formed by at least four Member States.

Where the Council acts on its own initiative, an initiative of a Member State or on a recommendation from the Commission or the European Central Bank, qualified majority voting will be defined as 72 per cent of the Council's members representing 65 per cent of the EU's population. This occurs notably in the fields of justice and home affairs, common foreign and security policy, economic and monetary policy and in a possible future case of suspension or withdrawal of a Member State.

Retained unanimity: Unanimity will continue to apply in the field of taxation, partially in the field of social policy and a number of areas in the area of foreign, security and defence policy. Laws on own resources, the financial perspectives and future revisions of the Constitution itself will have to be adopted unanimously. The new voting system is due to take effect from 1 November 2009.

Defence: '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.

Economic and Monetary Union: Members of the euro area will be equipped with more power to make decisions under the Constitutional Treaty. It will be up to the 'Euro-Ecofin Council' (Concil configuration comprising members of the eurozone) to adopt recommendations made to Member States that are part of the euro area as well as to approve measures related to excessive deficits. The Euro-Ecofin Council will have the first say on the accession of new countries to the EMU. Members of the euro area will have a unified representation in international financial institutions.

Legal matters: Qualified majority voting will apply to a majority of areas, including the areas of asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. However, 'emergency brakes' have been inserted (by the UK) allowing a Member State to appeal to the European Council if it feels that its national interests are at stake. The Constitutional Treaty enables the Council to set up the office of the European Public Prosecutor by means of a unanimous decision. The remit of the Prosecutor will initially be limited to 'combating crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union'. This can later be extended to include 'serious crime with a cross-border dimension'.

Transparency: ne million signatures by citizens from a significant number of Member States can invite the Commission to submit an appropriate proposal to the legislator. Council proceedings, when exercising its legislative funcion, are to be open to the public. National parliaments will be informed about all new initiatives from the Commission. If one third of them consider that a proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, the Commission must review its proposal.

Misc: For the first time there is an exit clause so that a member state can leave the Union if it wants and a solidarity clause committing member states to help when another in the bloc is under terrorist attack.

The road to federalism?: In all other areas covered by the Constitution, the Member States that wish to co-operate more closely together should 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. Enhanced co-operation is becoming a possibility for members of the euro-group which will be able to implement common tax policies (eg for turnover taxes or VAT harmonisation) by means of qualified majority voting.

What if it isn't ratified? See here.

Where can I get more info? Try here and here.

Where can I read the full constitution? PDF download here - but be warned, there are over 300 pages, and it is a very, very, VERY dull read...

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