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European Law Monitor newsIntergovernmental Conference • procedural aspects

1. What is the status of the IGC mandate agreed at the European Council?

The 27 EU Members agreed at the European Council of 21-22 June 2007 on a clear and precise mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). Political agreement was reached on the main parameters for the final deal. This is however a mandate, not the final text of the Treaty.

Over the coming months, the Intergovernmental Conference will work to put the political agreement into legal form. The final outcome will be a Reform Treaty.

2. What is an Intergovernmental Conference?

This term is used to describe negotiations between the Member States' governments with a view to amending the Treaties. This is a special procedure outside the normal Council discussions.

The procedure for an Intergovernmental Conference is set out in Article 48 TEU.

These conferences are convened, at the initiative of a Member State or the Commission, by the Council of Ministers acting by a simple majority (after consulting the European Parliament and, if appropriate, the Commission). The European Central Bank will also be consulted in the case of institutional changes in the monetary area.

The preparations for the current IGC mandate were made by a group of focal points from each member state, the Commission and European Parliament under the responsibility of the German Presidency.

The IGC of 2007 will be significantly different from previous IGCs. In the past, IGCs have been given a mandate which sets the scope of the discussions, but which leaves a large margin for negotiation. The mandate agreed in June is extremely precise, detailed to the point of setting out Treaty language to be inserted. The IGC which will begin on 23-24 July 2007 will seek to turn the political agreement of the IGC mandate into a "Reform Treaty" to amend the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community.

3. Why is the Commission producing an opinion?

In conformity with Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union, the Commission is called upon to deliver an opinion on the proposed IGC. This is a formal step. The Commission fully endorses the political agreement reached at the European Council of 21-22 June 2007.

4. Who will represent the Commission at the Intergovernmental Conference?

The Commission will be represented by President Barroso at the European Council and by Vice-President Wallstrôm when the General Affairs Council discusses the IGC. They will be assisted by their respective Heads of Cabinet, Joao Vale de Almeida and Christian Leffler and by Michel Petite, Director General of the Legal Service.

5. What previous Intergovernmental Conferences have taken place?

The most important IGCs in recent years have resulted in the following treaties:

- The Single European Act (1986): this introduced the changes needed to complete the internal market on 1 January 1993.

- The Treaty of Maastricht (1992): the Treaty on European Union was negotiated at two separate IGCs, one on economic and monetary union (EMU) and the other on political union, instituting the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and cooperation on justice and home affairs (JHA).

- The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997): this is the result of the IGC launched at the Turin European Council in March 1996. The task of the Conference was to revise those provisions of the Maastricht Treaty which gave rise to problems of implementation and to prepare for future enlargement.

- The Treaty of Nice (2001): the IGC preceding this was launched in February 2000 to address the issues not resolved by the Treaty of Amsterdam, namely: the size and composition of the European Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers, the possible extension of qualified majority voting in the Council and closer cooperation - included during the Santa Maria de Feira European Council of June 2000.

- The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (2004).

6. Can a member state re-open a point during the Intergovernmental Conference?

The IGC mandate and the European Council conclusions are political agreements. They have been agreed by all member states. From a strict legal standpoint, a member state may raise an issue at any point during an Intergovernmental Conference, but the principle of "bona fide" would mean that this IGC is not used to change arguments already entered into.

7. Does every member state have to agree to the final treaty by unanimity?

All changes to the founding treaties can only be made by unanimity.

8. How and when will a Reform Treaty enter into force?

It is hoped that agreement on a text can be made by the informal European Council in October 2007 so that the ratification process in all 27 countries can be completed before the European Parliament election in June 2009.

9. Why are there differences in the national procedures for ratifying a Reform Treaty?

The choice of procedure for ratifying a Reform Treaty comes within the remit of each Member State, according to its own constitutional rules; it could either be by parliamentary approval and/or by referendum.

When approval is by Parliament the procedure depends on the structure of the State and of the national parliaments: some parliaments are composed of a single chamber (Greece for example), some of two chambers which both have to vote on a Reform Treaty (like in Germany). In some Member States (like in Belgium), a Reform Treaty also has to be approved by the regional assemblies.

A member state can choose to hold a referendum. Ireland is the only country that has so far indicated it intends to opt for this route of ratification.

10. What would happen if a Reform Treaty is not ratified by all member states?

To come into force, a Reform Treaty has to be ratified by all twenty-seven member states.

The existing Treaty of Nice which entered into force in 2003 will continue until all countries have completed the ratification process.

Reproduced with the permission of the European Commission REF MEMO 07/284