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A Readers Guide to the Draft European Constitution

September 30, 2003

With the creation of a president, foreign minister and new powers to be centralized in Brussels, the EU Constitution proposes the greatest reform in the history of the European Union. Here's a DW-WORLD dummy's guide.

Does this document hold the key to the future of Europe?Image: AP

With the draft European Constitution, the European Union would, for the first time in its history, have a basic set of laws to replace an ever complicated tangle of treaties cobbled together during its nearly 50 years of existence. A group of 105 delegates spent 16 months drafting the constitution at the European Convention in Brussels before completing their work in June.

On Oct. 4, the draft will be taken up by delegates participating in an Intergovernmental Conference of EU member states in Rome. Their task is to finalize the language of the constitution in time for a major EU summit in Rome this December, where leaders hope to give the future constitution their stamp of approval.

DW-WORLD has put together a quick reader’s guide to the most important points in the draft constitution:

Foundations of the constitution

The preamble calls on Europeans to "transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny." It calls on the EU to draw its influence from Europe’s "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance," though it makes no direct reference to Christianity. It also bestows dual citizenship on all members -- both European citizenship and national citizenship. It incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union, a bill of rights first approved at the Dec. 2000 EU summit in Nice, France, that guarantees free speech, freedom of religion, the right to life and other basic freedoms. It also calls for sustainable development in Europe that balances economic growth, a social market economy that is "highly competitive" and aimed at full employment and social progress while at the same time calling for a "high level of protection and improvement" of the environment.


The constitution lays out a number of exclusive competencies for the European Union -- including trade issues and currency policy for euro zone members. But it also includes areas of split competency, like environment and energy policy, where decisions made at the EU level can also affect member states; but the majority of such legislation is made at the national level. Any competency not expressed in the constitution will remain at the national level.

EU institutions

The European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice remain the central organs of the EU under the constitution. But it also establishes a method of dual leadership: In addition to the President of the European Commission, it also creates the position of a European Council President. The president would be elected by the Council -- the heads of state or government of the member states -- for a 2.5 year term that can be extended by one additional term. The president’s election would then have to be confirmed by the European Parliament. Under the constitution, the President of the European Commission would be elected by the European Parliament. The European Commission would also be streamlined under the constitution. Until 2009, each country would be able to send a commissioner to Brussels, but after that, only 15 would have voting rights.

Foreign policy

The constitution also creates an office of the European Union Foreign Minister. The candidate would be selected by the European Council, but would also be subject to confirmation by the European Commission. The foreign minister would also serve as vice president of the Commission.

The constitution also calls for the Union to take over competency in matters of common foreign and security policy -- including all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union’s security. The "progressive framing of a common defense policy" could lead to a "common defense," it stipulates. However, national vetos still apply to foreign policy decision-making.

Majority voting

One key provision of the constitution is that it eliminates current veto rights in broad policy areas and replaces them with qualified majority votes. The constitution creates a contested new definition of qualified majority voting. It would require that a majority of EU member states vote in favor of a law and that those votes represent 60 percent of the entire EU population. However, the exact areas to which majority voting will apply will only be final after the Intergovernmental Conference completes its work. Currently, it appears the veto will still apply in areas of foreign, defense and taxation policy.

Parliamentary power and petitions for referendum

The constitution further strengthens the European Parliament by providing it with a "co-decision with the Council of Ministers," or vote, on most future laws important to the EU. Additionally, for the first time, the constitution requires the European Commission to take up a political issue if at least one million European Union citizens submit a petition. It does not, however, require the Commission to take a decision on the issue.

The right to sue

In the future, parliaments of member states will be permitted to challenge EU decisions at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The law would apply to all major national legislative bodies, including Germany’s Bundesrat, the upper legislative chamber that represents the interests of the country’s states at the national level.

Exit clause

For the first time, the constitution would also lay out the process by which a country could leave the European Union.

European prosecutor

In an effort to fight cross-border crime in the EU, the constitution also would create a European Public Prosecutor’s Office to help reduce crime that transcends frontiers.