Europe and the law
Europe and the law

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Europe and the law

7.2 An EU constitution: moving the debate on

In the next activity you will be able to build upon the previous one and observe the way in which the debate on the new EU constitution has progressed and moved to another level on its way to ratification.

Activity 7 A snapshot from the EU constitutional debate (2)

0 hours 30 minutes

You should now read the article in Box 2 from the Guardian without being too worried about understanding everything. Try to take notes while reading and then answer the three questions that follow.

Box 2 EU leaders sign constitution

The 25 leaders of the European Union today signed the EU's first constitution, in the Rome palace which saw the creation of the original common market 47 years ago.

The illustrious ceremony, hosted by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, leaves the treaty with two years to be ratified by each member-state, either through their national parliaments or individual referendums – leaving its eventual enactment in doubt. The 300-page constitution, if ratified, would give the EU a president, a foreign minister and a charter of fundamental rights – all deeply controversial in many EU nations.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today confirmed that a UK referendum on the constitution was ‘likely’ to be in spring 2006 – after both a general election and the UK's rotating presidency of the EU.

The new ‘rulebook’ for the EU replaces over 80,000 pages of legal documentation accumulated through a variety of treaties bonding the original European Economic Community of 1957, and was prompted by the accession this year of 10 new member states, mostly from the former Soviet bloc. Today's constitution was also signed by aspirant EU members Bulgaria and Turkey.

At least eight member states, including the major players of Britain and France, will hold referendums affirming the constitution, with any ‘no’ vote likely to at least deadlock progress.

Although the constitution – drawn up over two years by the former French president Valéry Giscard D'Estaing – will for the first time outline the process for an existing member to leave the EU, it has still provoked a strong Eurosceptic opposition in Britain and other countries, with the Conservatives calling it a ‘ball and chain’ on British business.

Britain successfully argued for a national veto on taxation, defence and social welfare, but the constitution spells out for the first time the division of powers between national government and EU ‘competencies’

The new ‘EU president’ will serve a two-and-a-half-year term, replacing the existing rotating presidency. The constitution would also introduce a post of EU foreign minister for the first time.

The document states: ‘The union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the member states in a society of pluralism, tolerance, justice, equality, solidarity and non-discrimination.’

‘The union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and a single market where competition is free and undistorted.’

(Matthew Tempest (2004) 'EU leaders sign constitution’, Guardian, 29 October) ©
Tempest, M. (2004) EU leaders sign constitution. Guardian, 29 October 2004. Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
  1. How long do the member states have to ratify the EU constitution and what procedure can they follow in order to do so?

  2. The enactment of an EU constitution has been claimed to be a ‘tidying up exercise? Is this claim justified?

  3. According to this article, the signed constitution appears to address two important issues regarding the relationship between the EU member states. What are those issues, and why do you think they are considered important?

Discussion

Comment

  1. The ratification of the document has to take place within two years and it can be done through a parliamentary vote or through nationally organised referendums. Note that these procedures of ratification are not established through the EU constitution but from the constitutional arrangements of each individual member state.

  2. Partially, yes. The 300-page document, although much longer than most modern constitutions, will replace 80,000 pages of primary and secondary EU legislation. However, it is also undeniable that there are new elements which did not exist previously, such as the creation of an EU president and an EU foreign minister, as well as the incorporation of a comprehensive charter of human rights.

  3. One issue which the constitution is addressing for the first time relates to the creation of a procedure for an existing member state to leave the EU. This is an important aspect because of an increase in the membership of the EU and of the many difficulties which must surely lie ahead in the process of integration. Moreover, the member states have formed or joined the EU of their own free will, following an established procedure, and it is only logical that the procedure should be clear for reversing this process as well. Second, the signed constitution appears to spell out for the first time the division of powers between the national governments and the EU ‘competencies’ (notice the term used, avoiding reference to an EU ‘government’). This is one of the most important aspects for the good functioning of the Union.

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