European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

A summit too far?

The European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday will show whether the EU is able to give itself a new constitutional basis. The German EU Council Presidency is hoping that the Council will issue a mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference.

On Tuesday evening the German Council Presidency presented the state of negotiations on treaty reform to all other 26 Member States.

In June 2006 Germany was asked to draw up a roadmap for treaty reform. The goal is to have a new treaty ratified by all Member States by the time of the European Parliament elections in 2009. The background was the rejection of the draft constitution by the people of France and the Netherlands in referenda held in the spring of 2005. Following on from the "No Votes" the EU then prescribed itself a two-year period of reflection, which has now ended.

If the Summit fails, the EU will continue to act in accordance with the Treaty of Nice. However, this Treaty is not best suited to a Union of 27 or even more Member States.

A huge task

The German Presidency aims to get the Summit to issue a mandate for a so-called Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). The IGC would then formulate all the details of the new treaty. But such a mandate can only be issued if the meeting in Brussels clears up all the remaining points of dispute.

From constitution to treaty

The rejections of the draft constitution are interpreted in some Member States as expressions of the citizens' fear of a European superstate. This fear must be removed.

The aim now is to reform the European treaties with an amending treaty. So there probably won't be any state-like symbols, or any anthem, in the new treaty.

However, the German EU Council Presidency wants to save as much as possible of the substance of the original draft constitution. It has held consultations with all other Member States and has taken on board numerous changes. The new proposal has now been submitted to the Heads of State and Government as a draft mandate. Some points are still contentious. These include, for instance, the question of whether the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is legally binding.

Who gets how many votes?

One of the most problematic issues is the future voting procedure for majority decisions in the EU Council of Ministers. Poland and the Czech Republic do not agree with the proposal already set forth in the draft constitution.

The draft provides for the principle of the double majority: decisions need to be approved by a majority of 55% of the Member States. And this majority must encompass the approval of 65% of the EU's population.

Under the current Treaty of Nice, Poland, with its 40 million or so inhabitants, has 27 votes in the Council. Germany, which has almost twice as many inhabitants, has 29 votes. Under the double majority system, Poland would lose votes in the Council.

The Polish Government is now arguing that the new EU treaty must be based on the principle of equal influence for the citizens in decision-making. One possibility would be to calculate voting rights on the basis of the square root of the population. While Poland is not insisting on this method of calculation, it argues that a linear calculation • as envisaged in the draft • would favour the big Member States.

This article is based on a press release issued by the German Presidency.