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A Quick Guide To the EU Constitution

DW-WORLD offers a speed reader of the most essential aspects of the new constitution agreed to by the leaders of the 25 European Union member states. Find out what made the cut and what wound up on the editing floor.


A new charter for Europe

What does it do?

The core of the constitution contains 50 articles describing the duties and responsibilities of the European Union. It also describes the European Institutions, including new ones, and defines their authority. It details how budgets and decision-making in the European Union should be done, also setting into stone the new double majority principle for most major legislation.


The number of EU policy areas requiring the double majority vote is vastly expanded in the constitution. However, it does not include a number of issues relating to internal security, foreign policy, budget, tax or economic policy -- powers that many European member states wanted to retain in their national capitals. In many areas that can be determined by double majority votes, the constitution builds in so-called "emergency breaks" that allow countries to impose a one-month veto in order to delay legislation. In many areas, long grace or transition periods have been built in so countries can adjust from the current requirement of unanimous votes to the new double majority system.


The constitution also incorporates the European Union's Charter of Rights, which describes the rights and freedoms of every citizen of Europe.

Constitutional court

It stipulates that lawsuits based on questions of the constitution must be taken up with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

President, foreign minister

Significantly, the constitution replaces the current presidency of the European Council, which is held on a six-month rotating basis by each member state, with a president who serves a two-and-a-half year term at the helm of the council, stewarding its work and managing its agenda. The constitution also establishes the office of an EU foreign minister, a position intended to increase the EU's status abroad as well as to coordinate foreign policy among the EU member states.

Streamlined democracy

In an effort to streamline Brussels bureaucracy, the constitution also reduces the number of commissioners on the European Commission from 25 to 18 starting in 2014. The constitution also increases the powers of the democratically elected European Parliament -- giving it equal power as the European Council to vote on budgets. Parliament will also have greater influence on the appointment of top EU offices, including the European Commission president. It will also have voting power in almost all policy areas.


The constitution also, for the first time, provides regulation for the voluntary secession of a member state.

What is different from earlier drafts or didn't make it into the constitution?

In the future, decisions in the Council of Ministers will be made using the double majority principle: A qualified majority has been reached when 55 percent of the European Union member states agree on legislation representing 65 percent of the entire EU population. In order to stop legislation, a blocking minority of at least four countries is required.

Until 2014, each EU member country will be allowed to send a commissioner to the European Commission. After that, two-thirds of member states will be entitled to a commission seat on a rotating basis.

The number of members of the European parliament will be limited to 750, though smaller member states will have a minimum of six seats and larger members no more than 99 seats in the European Parliament.

The ministers reached an agreement on the Stability and Growth Pact, the accord that guarantees the stability of Europe's common currency, the euro. Currently, the European Commission has the direct power to take legal action against member states who violate the 3 percent deficit spending cap set in the pact. In the future, the Commission can recommend that action be taken, but such action requires the approval of a qualified majority of EU countries representing three-fifths of the EU's population in the Council of Ministers.

There will be no direct reference to God in the constitution. Instead, the countries have agreed to a general reference to Europe's religious and cultural traditions.

Sources: Deutsche Welle/The Office of the German Chancellor

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