Draft EU Constitution presented to Thessaloniki Council

The draft of an EU constitutional Treaty was presented to the European Council summit held in Thessaloniki in June 2003. The proposed Treaty, which incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, will now form the basis for the work of an Intergovernmental Conference, which should produce a final text. The Thessaloniki Council also endorsed the EU's 2003 Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and Employment Guidelines.

European Union heads of state and government met under the outgoing Greek Presidency for a European Council summit meeting in Thessaloniki on 19-20 June 2003.

Draft Constitutional Treaty

The European Council was presented with a draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, drawn up by the European Convention, the body charged with the task of drawing up proposals to reform the EU’s institutions and working processes (EU0305203N and EU0201231N). The draft was presented by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the president of the Convention

The draft Treaty seeks to simplify and reorganise the existing Treaties, as well as making a number of changes. The first part of the proposed Treaty deals with matters such as the objectives and competences of the European Union, as well as its institutions - an area in which it sets out a number of reforms. It includes (under the heading 'The democratic life of the Union') a statement that: 'The European Union recognises and promotes the role of the social partners at Union level, taking into account the diversity of national systems; it shall facilitate dialogue between the social partners, respecting their autonomy.'

The second part of the Treaty incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which was approved by the European Council (EU0011278N) and subsequently by the European Parliament in 2000 (EU0012284N). The Charter was solemnly proclaimed and published in the Official Journal of the European Communities on 18 December 2000, but was not at the time included in the EU Treaties and therefore not given legal status. Incorporating it into an EU constitutional Treaty would give it legally binding status.

The Charter sets out a range of rights, freedoms and principles for EU citizens, along with provisions on its interpretation and application. In terms of employment, the key points include:

  • freedom of assembly and association;
  • freedom to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work;
  • a right not to be discriminated against;
  • a right to equality between men and women, including in the areas of employment, work and pay;
  • a worker’s right to information and consultation within an undertaking;
  • the right of collective bargaining and action;
  • the right of access to placement services;
  • the right to protection in the event of unjustified dismissal;
  • the right to fair and just working conditions;
  • a ban on child labour; and
  • protection of young people at work.

The third part of the Treaty sets out the policies and functioning of the Union. In the social policy field, it largely retains the current provisions of the Treaty on European Union, but with some modifications. The employment and social policy implications of the draft Treaty will be examined in more detail in a future EIRO article.

The presentation of the draft constitutional Treaty completes the work of the Convention. The draft will now form the basis for an Intergovernmental Conference, which will begin its work in October 2003 and ultimately result in amendments to the Treaties.

The European Council stated that the draft Treaty is a good basis for starting the Intergovernmental Conference. It is hoped that the Treaty will be signed as soon as possible after 1 May 2004.

Emilio Gabaglio, an observer member on the Convention and the former general secretary of theEuropean Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), stated in a press release that 'incorporating the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Treaty with legal force is a noteworthy step forward', although he criticised the fact that clauses concerning its interpretation will 'limit its practical benefits to workers and citizens in general'. He added that: 'The benchmark values of social justice, equality and solidarity, and the Union’s objectives of full employment, a social market economy and sustainable development are in line with our demands.'

The Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe (UNICE) also welcomed the draft Constitutional Treaty, stating that it is a 'good basis to allow further integration of European and for business to develop and prosper in the European Union ... The final text represents a satisfactory balance between economic and social aspects.'

Both UNICE and ETUC have also welcomed the recognition given to the role of the social partners and European social dialogue process in the draft constitutional Treaty as a positive result for the European social partners.

Guidelines endorsed

The Council reviewed the key policy priorities underpinning the 2003 Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and Employment Guidelines (EU0212204F), before endorsing both documents. These priorities are listed as:

  • creating the best economic conditions to promote growth, by delivering a stable macroeconomic framework and by pursuing greater competitiveness and dynamism through investment in human and physical capital;
  • creating more and better jobs in order to promote full employment, making labour markets more efficient, inclusive and adaptable, adapting tax and benefit systems to make work pay, including labour market participation, promoting a new balance between flexibility and security, facilitating labour mobility and improving and updating skills to achieve higher productivity and better quality jobs; and
  • strengthening the sustainability of public finances and reforming pension and healthcare systems 'while the demographic window of opportunity is still open, thus ensuring that a massive burden is not left for future generations', as well as increasing employment rates.

The Council noted that this is the first time that these two sets of guidelines have been presented under the new streamlined procedure devised by the European Commission (EU0210206F). Accordingly, both sets of guidelines now cover a period of three years and have clear recommendations for policy action.

In terms of the remits (in areas such as tax, energy, regulation and transport) issued by the spring European Council held in March 2003 (EU0304205F), the Council noted that some progress has been made, although much still remains to be done.

Commentary

The Thessaloniki European Council marked the end of the Greek Presidency of the Council. The Presidency achieved much in terms of progress in reforming the EU’s institutions and workings in advance of the large-scale enlargement exercise which will take place in 2004. An Intergovernmental Conference will now be convened in October 2003 which, taking the draft constitutional Treaty as a basis, will work on the text of a new Treaty, with the aim of signing it as soon as possible after 1 May 2004, when 10 new countries are due to join the EU. Thus, 2004 will see a larger and more diverse Union taking shape, which will have far-ranging implications for employment, social policy and industrial relations. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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