Monday

27th May 2019

European Constitution to be signed in Rome today

  • The signature will take place in the same room that hosted the signature of the founding Treaty of Rome in 1957 (Photo: European Commission)

EU leaders from the 25 member states will arrive in Rome today for the formal signing of the new European Constitution - officially starting the two-year ratification period.

Symbolically, the ceremony will take place in the same room as the signing of the original Treaty of Rome by the then six member states - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg - in 1957.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi fought a hard battle to get the document signed in Rome - although Italy failed to get the document agreed under its EU Presidency in the second half of last year.

It was eventually agreed under the Irish EU Presidency in June.

A mammoth document

The Constitution runs to some 300 pages and contains over 400 articles. It will replace, once adopted, most of the existing EU treaties.

The first part defines the European Union and its values and institutions. The second part incorporates the Charter on fundamental rights. The third part describes the policy and actions of the European Union and the last part contains the final clauses, including the procedures for approval and a possible revision of the Constitution.

Big changes

It introduces some big changes. The EU will get a permanent chair of the European Council to drive the EU forward, and a new EU foreign minister.

The new voting system will be based on a double majority of both member states and population.

The number of Commissioners will be reduced to two thirds of the number of member states from 2014.

The European Parliament's powers have been greatly strengthened so that the areas where it can co-legislate with member states have almost doubled.

And, 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.

From Laeken to Rome

The Constitution project was born among EU leaders at the Laeken summit in December 2001.

Acknowledging that previous procedures which resulted in long arduous summits with negotiations into the early morning was no longer appropriate, they decided instead to call a Convention to draft a new Constitution.

The Convention was tasked to bring the EU to its citizens and make the European Union work with 28 or more states - chaired by former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, it met for the first time in February 2002.

Over 16 months, with clever political manoeuvres and by disciplined use of the so-called consensus method, the elderly politician managed to draft most of the text, which is to be signed today.

In July 2003, Mr Giscard took the text from its birthplace in Brussels and brought it to Rome for a symbolic hand-over to the Italian Presidency.

An Intergovernmental Conference was then launched in October last year and by June this year, leaders managed to agree a text.

Pan European campaigns

However, the final - and perhaps most difficult part - still remains: ratification.

The text cannot come into place until all 25 member states have ratified it by referendum or via their national parliaments.

So far, 11 member states have committed themselves to holding a referendum - with Spain set to be the first in February next year.

The debates - both for and against the Constitution - are likely to be pan-European for a change. Earlier referenda on EU treaties, fought in Denmark, Ireland and elsewhere, were mainly national events.

On a different front, a battle is also heating up - on Christianity.

Several centre-right politicians are agitating for a reference to Europe's Christian heritage to be made in the national statutes ratifying the Constitution.

In the case of a no-vote?

What happens if one country votes no to the European Constitution - the answer is political.

There is much speculation over whether a no vote in a small country would be allowed to sink the whole ship.

However, a no vote in a larger country or in several countries would be difficult to overcome and could send politicians back to the drawing board.

In any case, Europe is entering a new two-year phase today of national ratification - the Constitution will enter into force on 1 November 2006, provided it has been ratified in all 25 member states.

If this is not the case, a declaration attached to the treaty says that "the matter will be referred to the European Council".

Subdued ceremony for Europe's first Constitution

EU leaders gathered for a subdued ceremony to sign Europe's first Constitution in Rome. The difficult job of getting the text ratified and the more immediate institutional crisis over the Barroso Commission were clearly over-shadowing the event.

Analysis

Sibiu: EU leaders prepare post-Brexit show of unity

With the European elections just three weeks away, the EU-27 will try to set the agenda for the next years for the EU institutions. But with persisting divisions on key issues, unity will be an achievement in itself.

Exclusive

Ombudsman backs EUobserver on MEP expenses

The European Parliament should have granted access to documents on a decision about how transparent MEPs should be in future with their office expenses, says EU Ombudsman.

EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

EU institutions want Facebook to relax its rules, to allow pan-European political groups to carry out EU-wide campaigns. Facebook has yet to implement the demands - posing questions on the extent to which Europe relies on the US tech firm.

News in Brief

  1. Timmermans calls for 'progressive alliance'
  2. Catalonia's Puigdemont wins MEP seat
  3. Weber opens door to alliance with greens and liberals
  4. Tsipras calls snap Greek election after EP defeat
  5. Polish ruling PiS takes lion's share of EU vote
  6. Romanian voters punish ruling PSD party
  7. First official EP projection: EPP remain top, Greens fourth
  8. UK forecast puts Brexit Party on top, with 24 seats

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Populists' EU breakthrough fails, greens and liberals gain
  2. Jubilant Greens in party mood after first EP projection
  3. 2019 European election results
  4. Thunberg: We can still fix climate, but must start today
  5. Turnout up in Slovakia, with pro-EU liberals scoring high
  6. Belgium votes in hybrid EU-national election
  7. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  8. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us