Non, Nee, Nice | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.06.2005
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Non, Nee, Nice

With the non-ratification of the EU constitution, the already existing Niece Treaty will stay in effect. But the treaty is complicated, unpopular and seems inappropriate for an enlarged Europe.


The complicated Nice puzzle is still the game to be played

The French and the Dutch have clearly rejected the EU constitution, but this does not mean that the European integration process will be deprived of a legal foundation or that the EU will be driven into a state of lawlessness. The generally unpopular Nice Treaty, which was to be replaced by the proposed constitution in 2007, remains in effect.

Complicated procedures

This treaty, which was supposed to ensure the efficiency of the EU before its enlargement, is not regarded very highly in the Union. The extremely difficult negotiations of 2000 lead to disagreements and temporary quarrels, especially between France and Germany, regarding controversial issues were such as voting ratios and competences. Although a compromise was finally reached in December 2000, the signatories were aware the treaty did not provide an ideal solution. A "post-Nice process" was immediately heralded as a way of clearing up the remaining problems.

The main issue with the Nice Treaty -- complicated voting rules -- is also the reason why the negotiations surrounding the EU constitution were so drawn out. The constitutional assembly eventually did agree to simplify these rules, but only after a tough wrestling match. Currently, the distribution of votes in the Council of Ministers is not transparent enough and too many decisions need to be reached unanimously.

Once, twice, thrice

At the moment, the Council of Ministers makes its decisions by means of triple majority voting. First of all, a decision needs 232 out of 321 possible votes in favor. In addition, these votes must come from the majority of member states. And, finally, the majority must represent 62 percent of the EU population.

EU Gipfel gescheitert Flagge und Hand p178

The distribution of voting rights remains to be a major problem for EU

This is not only complicated but also unfair, as some observers point out. Member states have between 3 and 29 votes at their disposal. The number of these so-called weighed votes is partially in discrepancy with the size of individual countries. Germany, for instance, has 29 votes in the Council, while the countries with significantly smaller population, such as Spain and Poland, have 27 votes available.

The EU constitution would lower these high hurdles somewhat. A double, rather than triple, majority would suffice. Votes coming from 55 percent of member states and 65 percent of the EU population would make the decision binding and make it harder for others to try to block it.

The EU constitution would strengthen the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament by allowing them to make decisions in more political areas than previously. The parliament could, for example, elect president of the Commission at the recommendation of the government.

Unanimous in the blockade

Another problem posed by the Nice Treaty is the principle of unanimity, which is valid in essential political areas such as taxes, social security and economic policy. A single veto in one of these areas can block the decisions from being implemented. The EU constitution allows double majority voting in questions of inner security, foreign, tax and finance policies. The veto right remains as a kind of emergency-break in many areas, but its effects are limited to four months.

With the present implementation of the Nice Treaty, the European Union is not equipped to accept new members beyond the 27 member states. The treaty regulates neither the distribution of votes in the Council nor the seats in the European Parliament.

Theoretically speaking, parts of the unpopular treaty could be modified by letting certain parts of the EU constitution come into effect. That, however, would be connected with a renewed show of strength: The treaty can be altered only with the agreement of all 25 member states. In several countries, this would require a new referendum.

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