The EU’s Constitution: Who Are the Winners and Who Are the Losers?

Article published on July 8, 2004
community published
Article published on July 8, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The Constitutional Treaty has been a no holds barred battle but how did it end? Analysis by a researcher at the Institute of International Affairs.

The new Constitution has finally been approved. It will not be the foundation of a new federal state, as the Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt would have liked, nor will it represent a simple ‘tidying up exercise’, as claimed by Peter Hain, the representative of the British government at the Convention. It is indeed a hard-fought compromise amid conflicts between the supporters and the opponents for greater integration.

How can the Commission make it work?

In this Constitutional Treaty, it was expected that first of all, a more coherent Union that is able to have more weight in international politics. For this aim, the text suggests a Ministry of Foreign Affairs with autonomous right of initiatives to be set up. Certainly, it is about an important step towards effective coordination of foreign policies and a more competent EU. But the Constitution does not go any further: the development of a common foreign policy on security will continue to be subject to unanimous agreement between member states. The new Treaty will install a permanent President into the Council of Europe who will be chosen among high-profile political personalities without any national posts. The President will be able to improve the Council’s efficiency and carry out a fundamental action of internal mediation. This new role represents in effect the most important innovation of the new text and could give a powerful push to the development of the European Union. In addition, the President could also become the recognizable figure-head to the citizens of Europe.

On the contrary, the final compromise offers us a semi-weakened European Commission whose independence could be put in doubt. It could be due to its possible politicization (desired in the nomination procedure which should reflect the results of the European elections), or to the persistence of the principle of representativeness in its appointment (the 25 member states ought to be represented on an equal ground). Nonetheless, the new text guarantees a significant extension of the powers of the European Parliament, which represents a step further towards more democracy and transparency. The assembly will however continue to be without the right of legislative initiative, the unique tool through which it proposes its own policies, and its margin of measures could be reduced by the necessity to consult a Council which has no efficiency in decision-making.

The Risk of Paralysis

Just the definition of the vote of qualified majority inside this body, in short, the most controversial point of the entire negotiation, risks of bringing us a Union incapable of passing any decision. This issue means not only the threshold of necessary majority has to be crossed to pass decisions (A qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least 15 of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union), but also the so-called Ioannia Compromise which gives the minority groups the possibility to block decisions. Moreover, the achieved compromise guarantees a strong protection to the interests of small states which are big in numbers, have obtained an important result in the intergovernmental conference by subordinating the passing of every decision to the approval of at least 15 members, while the blocking minority threshold should consist of at least 4 members. The important result achieved by the United Kingdom, succeeding in imposing significant holdbacks as for the Convention’s text in terms of the extension of qualified majority voting, adds up to the general conquest obtained by the small states. But to understand the development of the integration process, it is nevertheless sufficient to wonder whether the next president of the Commission will be able to respected as the Council’s President, or whether the small states will continue to form a solid front against the large states. The real divide of future integration will in fact go beyond the way in which governments favourable and adverse to further integration will decide on how to manage their differences.

Under the current situation, the implementation of the Treaty risks of being blocked due to the unsuccessful ratification of the Constitution by a reduced number of member states. And, even if it is adopted, the Treaty could risk of making the Union hostage of the most Eurosceptic countries that can block whatever proposal thanks to the complex voting system and the protection of veto in numerous matters. The difficulty of the hardly concluded negotiation shows us the growing gap between the supporters of a greater integration and those who are against it. If a few members’ refusal must therefore block the development of this process, it is possible that this would make other members less willing to continue their course, making cooperation between nations restricted to countries that are available and able to cooperate from time to time, within or outside of the negotiation, as it happened in the end.