EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe

In June 2004, the intergovernmental conference of Member States (which met in Brussels on 17–18 June 2004) agreed a Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The purpose of the Constitution should be to:

  • simplify the overlapping series of treaties which provide the current legal foundation for the EU;
  • reaffirm the values on which the EU is built;
  • establish the fundamental rights and duties of its citizens;
  • clarify the relationship between Member States and the Union;
  • improve decision-making processes in the EU.

None of the articles in the text of the proposed Constitution is entirely new. Each article is based either on a provision from existing treaties, or on a provision from the existing Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Most articles are identical in wording or spirit to their predecessors, others are differently presented, and some are significantly modified. The proposed Constitution is divided into four parts:

  • Part I: This includes the definition and the objectives of the Union, fundamental rights and citizenship, Union competences and its institutions and bodies, as well as provisions on finances and membership.
  • Part II: The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
  • Part III: The policies and functioning of the Union.
  • Part IV: General and final provisions.

The need to consolidate the Union’s Treaties was already highlighted in the Treaty of Nice. Later at its summit in Laeken in December 2001, the European Council posited a series of questions related to structural matters: How should the division of competence between the Union and the Member States be organised? How can the European institutions’ respective tasks be better defined? How can the coherence and efficiency of the EU’s external relations be ensured? How can the Union’s democratic legitimacy be strengthened? In this context, the question emerged as to whether a revision of the European Treaties might lead to the adoption of a Constitution for the Union. As a result, the European Council decided to convene a ‘Convention on the Future of Europe’, which had the task to consider these issues and identify possible responses.

In addition to the Chair, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, and two Vice-chairs, the Convention was composed of 15 representatives of the national governments, 30 members of national parliaments, 16 members of the European Parliament and two Commission representatives. The then acceding 10 Member States, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the social partners – ETUC, CEEP and UNICE (now BUSINESSEUROPE) – and the European Ombudsman were also involved in the Convention’s proceedings.

In June 2003, the Convention on the Future of Europe proposed a Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe to replace the existing EU and EC treaties. The draft was presented by Giscard d’Estaing to the heads of governments at the Thessaloniki Summit on 20 June 2003, with a minority report from a ‘eurosceptic’ group attached. In October 2003, the intergovernmental conference (i.e. the representatives of the 25 national governments) commenced negotiations on the submitted draft Constitution. On 18 June 2004, all the 25 Member States agreed on an amended draft which was signed by the Heads of State or Government of the 25 Member States and three candidate countries on 24 October 2004 in Rome. The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe must be ratified by the national parliaments and in many countries by a referendum too. Once the Treaty has been ratified and the ratification has been officially notified by all the signatory states (lodging of the ratification instruments), the Treaty can enter into force and become effective.

The people of France and the Netherlands rejected the text of the proposed Constitution on 29 May and 1 June 2005 respectively. In the light of these results, the European Council, meeting on 16 and 17 June 2005, considered that ‘we do not feel that the date initially planned for a report on ratification of the Treaty, 1 November 2006, is still tenable, since those countries which have not yet ratified the Treaty will be unable to furnish a clear reply before mid-2007’.

A period of reflection, explanation and discussion is currently under way in all countries, whether or not they have ratified the Constitution. On 13 October 2005, the European Commission launched its Plan D – Democracy, Dialogue and Debate – to put in place a framework, through national governments, for a 25-country debate on Europe’s future. This debate should involve citizens, civil society, social partners, national Parliaments and political parties.

At the same time, the ratification process continued in several Member States. Since June 2005, another five countries approved the Constitution. By July 2006, a total of 15 Member States had ratified the Constitution for Europe: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

At its June 2006 meeting, the European Council carried out an overall assessment of national debates in the Member States. After the period of reflection work, the focus should be on delivery of concrete results and implementation of projects. The European Council agreed on a two-track approach. On the one hand, best use should be made of the possibilities offered by the existing treaties in order to deliver the concrete results that citizens expect. On the other hand, the Presidency was to present a report to the European Council during the first semester of 2007, based on extensive consultations with the Member States. This report contained an assessment of the state of discussion with regard to the Constitutional Treaty and explore possible future developments. In the second half of 2006, the Finnish Presidency was due to bring the passive period of reflection to a close and start active discussions on the future of the Treaty with the Member States and EU institutions, in accordance with the conclusions from the June 2006 European Council. With the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon on 17 December 2007 and is entry into force on 1 December 2009 the Constitutional Treaty was, in parts, integrated into EU law. Other parts will remain a footnote in the process of European integration.

See also: EU law; treaty provisions.


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