5th Feb 2023


Did the Convention fulfil the Laeken mandate?

After 15 months of work, the Convention on the future of Europe will present its final report to the European Council in Thessaloniki on the 20th of June. For the first time in the European History, 450 million citizens will probably live under the same constitution.

The drafting process of this constitution has been a lot more transparent compared to previous Intergovernmental Conferences for the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice Treaties. However an Intergovernmental Conference will still be launched during the Italian presidency in order to finalise the Constitutional Treaty proposed by the Convention, and this IGC might be less open to the citizens than the Convention has been.

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When Valéry Giscard d'Estaing will present his report to the Heads of State, the time will come to judge if the Convention has fulfilled its mandate given in December 2001 by the European Council in Laeken. The 105 member body had to bring Europe closer to its citizens, increase democratic legitimacy and transparency of the present institutions and finally define Europe's new role in a globalised world.

Europe closer to its citizens

Through its working group on simplification, and different debates in plenary sessions, the Convention worked on different ways to make the EU simpler in order to bring it closer to its peoples. The need for clarity was underlined by many convention members in their contributions.

The abolishment of the pillar system introduced in Maastricht is a real step forward to achieve greater clarity. Indeed many EU citizens never understood what these pillars represented and how the institutions were linked to them. By adopting the legislative procedure - the new name for co-decision - as the common rule for most of the EU laws, the convention succeeded in making the EU's process of legislation much easier to understand.

Moreover the different kinds of legislation, regulation, directives, decisions, and recommendations, were among the aspects that make the EU difficult to understand. Therefore the Praesidium of the Convention rightly proposed to have only 2 types of law: European Law (ex regulation) and European framework Law (ex directive), in order to transform decision and recommendation into non-legislative acts.

However, clarity has not been completely reached on the difference between the European Council and the Council of the European Union, which remains difficult to separate, especially when the Council of Europe enters the game. Things are now even more complicated with the split of the Council of ministers in the general affairs council, legislative council, foreign affairs council and EcoFin council.

Democratic legitimacy and transparency of the institutions

The transparency of the Convention's work was obviously a good start in making Europe more democratic. In addition, the Convention was introduced in the new constitution as the new process for making large reforms to the Constitution, which ensures the participation of citizens in the shaping of the EU they are a part of.

Moreover the role of the only institution directly elected by the peoples of Europe, the European Parliament, has increased substantially.

On the one hand the legislative procedure is the general rule, and therefore applies for almost all legal basis, therefore giving the Parliament a real role in the EU's decision making processes.

On the other hand, the Convention had a great chance to strengthen considerably the role of the Parliament, by giving MEPs the chance to elect the president of the Commission among many candidates; but this solution was not put forward by the Praesidium. Instead, the European Council will choose one candidate and the Parliament will just have to agree, or not, with its decision.

This is not a real election of a Commission President, which is a cause for real regret, as it would have brought the 'east democratic institution' amongst the most democratic institutions.

Europe's new role in a globalised world

Heads of State asked members of the convention to define if Europe could "have a leading role to play in a new world order, that of a power able both to play a stabilising role world-wide and to point the way ahead for many countries and peoples?"This question has become even more imperative through the current crisis around the war in and against Iraq. The EU governments have not been able to agree a common position, even though the overwhelming majority of the European citizens did call for a united European voice in favour of a peaceful solution to the conflict.

However many members of the Convention, and especially the Praesidium understood the war as a call for a Super powerful European minister for foreign affairs, that would govern all Union policies related to external action (like development co-operation, humanitarian assistance).

This is a huge mistake as Europe needs to have the necessary tools to solve conflicts peacefully, and that implies a development and co-operation with independent objectives based on long term actions in order to eradicate poverty in the world.

On the contrary, the Convention proposed a text in which the foreign minister could use development aid in the framework of the European Common Defence and Humanitarian Aid for the fight against terrorism.

In the end the Convention has succeeded in bringing the EU closer to its citizens, by bringing a lot more clarity to the institutional and legislative framework of the EU, it has partly strengthened the EU's democratic legitimacy by making co-decision the common rule to legislate, but the EU will not be able to play a responsible role in the new world order with a foreign minister able to use development aid and humanitarian assistance for the Common Army and the fight against terrorism.

We can still hope that Heads of State and government will listen to the call coming from their citizens for an independent EU development policy, and make the necessary changes during the Intergovernmental Conference.

FLORANT SEBBAN - is working currently on the European Convention from a development perspective for EUROSTEP, a development co-operation umbrella NGO based in Brussels. He was elected in May 2002 to the European Union Student Council (EUSC), and is now its vice president. He has worked with many student organisations around Europe.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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