Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Subdued unveiling of EU Constitution

  • The second part of the treaty dealing with the Union policies will be unveiled on Tuesday (Photo: EUobserver)

The first part of the future EU treaty has been unveiled amid disputes over the division of power among the EU institutions and worries that time for the Convention to debate controversial issues is running out.

"Reflecting the will of the citizens and States of Europe to build a common future, this constitution establishes the European Union, on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common" reads the first article of Europe's future constitution.

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Consisting of 59 articles, this first part deals with foreign policy, exclusive and shared tasks between the member states and the Union, and lays out the objectives and values of the Union.

Significant step forward for Union power

It is also written in simpler legal terms than previous EU documents. Up until now, the various Treaties (of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice) have contained up to 15 legal instruments, these have now been reduced to five and have been given more palatable names such as EU laws and framework laws.

Altogether, the treaty represents a significant step forward in terms of power for the Union. The last vestiges of member states' beloved vetoes have been taken away in justice and home affairs and in areas such as combating fraud and tax evasion. In other areas such as sport, Brussels has gained a whole new co-ordinating competence.

Uproar

Eurosceptic UK MEP Timothy Kirkhope was livid, "Mr Blair may have convinced Giscard that the UK should retain control over its taxation and defence policy but these concessions have been won at the expense of other key areas."

However, Federalists are equally unhappy. German Christian Democrat MEP Elmar Brok said "I have the impression that some important members of the Presidium are not acting as Members of the Convention but rather looking after their own interests. In doing so, they risk reducing the whole Convention to absurdity."

National parliaments cannot stop legislation

The proposals for national parliaments do not go as far as several MPs in the Convention would have liked.

While they can force the Commission to reconsider legislation if one third of the parliament objects to it; they cannot make it withdraw legislation.

Significantly, however, if the Commission is thought to have breached subsidiarity (whereby the Union should only act when it can better achieve a task than the member states), then it can be brought before the Court of Justice by national parliaments.

Best bits missing

But the unveiling of the treaty on Monday morning was rather an anti-climax as the most controversial elements - such as division of power between the institutions has been left until later.

As Convention president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's inner team was unable to agree on these issues, which include the powers of a foreign minister, whether there should be an EU president and what the Commission president will do, this part has been left unchanged from the version that was unveiled at the end of April.

Last minute interventions from London and Madrid, both of which have an intergovernmentalist approach to the treaty, have also muddied the waters.

No religion just yet

Another controversial topic has been side stepped - religion. A reference to Europe's spiritual heritage, while not appearing in article 2 on values of the Union, will now appear in the preamble. But the exact wording has yet to be thrashed out. The preamble is likely to be unveiled this week.

Long to-do list

But with just three plenary sessions left to go, there is a lot of work to do.

Not only does the Convention's presidium have to produce the revised texts on institutions and the preamble but the Convention plenary itself must debate the whole document plus as-yet-untouched issues such as reinforced co-operation (where some member states decide to act together in a particular area) and extending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

"The clock is beginning to run", said a Commission spokesperson on Monday adding that Thessaloniki, where the constitution is due to be handed over to the member states on 20 June, "is not too far off."

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