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Christmas baubles decorated with the flags of the EU and member states
Will the EU be hanging out the decorations in celebration of the treaty come December?Image: AP

EU Reform Treaty

Nick Amies
October 18, 2007

The European treaty has loomed large on the horizon of the EU political landscape for the past few weeks as EU leaders prepare to agree on the its final text on Oct. 18-19.


This week's EU summit in Lisbon is an informal meeting for heads of state to see the results of legal work carried out on the European treaty over the autumn.

If the reformed treaty text is approved it will then go forward to a formal heads of state meeting in Brussels in December. If the treat receives the leaders' approval again it will then be sent for ratification by all 27 EU member states.

But what is the European treaty and what is all the fuss about? DW-WORLD.DE answers some of the most pertinent questions.

What is the European reform treaty?

The European constitution and flag
The constitution has made way for the treaty

After the failure of its forerunner, the European Constitution, which was rejected in 2005 by voters in France and the Netherlands, the European reform treaty was conceived as an alternative series of amendments to two existing EU treaties, the Treaty on the European Union (Maastricht) and the Treaty Establishing the European Community (Rome).

The idea is that the reform treaty will be a blueprint for running the expanded European Union more efficiently. The reform treaty was presented to the EU leaders in Brussels in July by the Portuguese presidency, after an initial hard-fought agreement on its text was hammered out in under Berlin's leadership in June.

What will the European reform treaty do?

The EU leaders will decide on the final draft for the European reform treaty in Lisbon on Oct. 18-19 and so the precise wording of the treaty has yet to be agreed. However, the document is expected to include the following:

  • Create the role of European President

This is one of the most controversial proposals as the idea was initially opposed by smaller EU nations but was forced through by the larger member states. The presidential role has official backing but opposition and resentment remain. The president would serve a two-and-a half-year term, replacing the current system of a rotating six-month presidency, and will not be allowed to serve more than two terms.

  • Create the role of EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Essentially the EU's foreign minister (as proposed in the constitution), this role will combine the posts of current foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, and the External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and will be the EU's point person for world affairs.

  • Reduce the size of the European Commission

Just as the European Parliament recently announced that the number of parliamentarians would be capped at 750 regardless of new countries joining the bloc, the EU Commission will reduce the number of its commissioners. There will be fewer commissioners than member states by 2014, with only two-thirds of countries supplying a commissioner on a rotational basis.

  • Redistribute voting weights among member states

This is another controversial aspect that has had many member states, particularly Poland and Britain, up in arms. The treaty intends to introduce majority voting, which will allow votes to be carried on a 55 percent majority as long as that majority also represent 65 percent of the European population. This would be phased in between 2014 and 2017.

  • Give new powers to the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice, in areas such as justice and domestic affairs
  • Remove the national veto in a number of areas

Is the reform treaty just the failed European Constitution under a different name?

A woman walks past posters urging France to vote
The French, along with the Dutch, gave a resounding "non"Image: AP

Originally, the reform treaty was described as having "no constitutional characteristics," but investigations by a number of international analysis groups have noted that only two of the 440 provisions in the reform treaty differ from the original constitution. The constitution's references to European flags and anthems, which proved unpopular with voters, have been left out. However, the existing flag, anthem and European motto -- "United in Diversity" -- will remain.

The role of European foreign minister included in the constitution text has also been replaced by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the use of the term "European laws" has been dropped in favor of "European regulations."

What is likely to happen in Lisbon and in the future?

The representatives from the 27 EU member states are expected to agree on the final text of the Treaty in Lisbon and then sign off on the treaty at a summit of European leaders in Brussels in December. Much like the process used for the doomed constitution, the treaty will then have to be ratified by all the EU's member states. If this is completed, the treaty will come into force in 2009.

Ratification was the process that spelled the end of the constitution. Some countries chose to put the constitution to the people in a referendum. It was killed off by two "no" votes, from France and the Netherlands. To avoid this, most countries are expected to leave the ratification of the treaty to their parliaments, who are expected to back the deal.

However, Ireland plans to hold a referendum, the Danes want one too and so do quite a few Dutch, despite their government taking a huge risk by holding out against the will of the people. The British government promised a referendum on the constitution but never got the chance to hold one as the French and Dutch votes made it unnecessary.

What could go wrong?

Dice featuring the EU and member state flags
Things may not be so clear if some nations cause troubleImage: AP

For the treaty to come into being, all the decisions surrounding it have to be unanimous. There are a number of wrenches that could potentially end up in the works, specifically those lobbed in from Poland and the UK.

Poland is threatening to block the treaty unless it includes an agreement -- known as the Ioannina Compromise -- to allow countries to defer unpalatable decisions that have been agreed by a narrow majority.

The British have a number of "red lines" regarding issues of sovereignty in which the UK has an opt-out clause. The exceptions were agreed to principle in discussions under German leadership in June. However, Britain could pull the treaty plug if the legal work carried out on the treaty text since June adapts or removes any of these "red lines."

While these two offer the greatest threats to the treaty, the most bizarre arguably comes from Bulgaria. Sofia is threatening to derail the treaty over the spelling of euro currency, which it insists should be "evro" in its Cyrillic alphabet.

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