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European Law Monitor newsQuestions and Answers on the IGC mandate for a Reform Treaty

1. What did the European Summit in June 2007 agree?

The 27 EU Members agreed to a clear and precise mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to finalise the details of a Reform Treaty. 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 should be the Reform Treaty.

The Commission believes that the IGC mandate puts the IGC on the right track. The result will be a new treaty that properly reflects the new reality facing Europe, enhancing the European Union's capacity to act and respond to the demands of its citizens. The Commission believes that this political agreement should not be re-opened and the IGC should be concluded as quickly as possible.

2. What will a Reform Treaty change for citizens?

A Reform Treaty will seek to reinforce the Union's capacity to act through strengthened external coherence, delivery of results and policy achievements for citizens and modern institutions that work in a Union of 27:

A Reform Treaty will provide a stronger and more coherent external voice for the European Union. It will also provide more practical diplomatic and consular assistance for citizens when traveling to third countries.

A Reform Treaty responds to the concerns raised by European citizens during the period of reflection. A political commitment to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and energy policy are fully reflected in the mandate. For the first time, the treaties will contain a section on energy which assigns to Union policy in this sector the objectives of ensuring the proper functioning of the energy market, in particular energy supply and the promotion of energy efficiency and energy saving, and the development of new and renewable forms of energy.

New possibilities exist to deal for example with cross border effects of public health, civil protection and sport. A Reform Treaty puts freedom, justice and security at the centre of its priorities. The European Union will be able to deal with criminal gangs who smuggle people across frontiers, tackle asylum shopping, promote and support action in the area of crime prevention and help to tackle terrorism through the freezing of assets. A Reform Treaty will also contain a "solidarity clause" indicating that the Union and its Member States shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the target of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster.

These innovations will give the Union the possibility to better implement its policies aimed at ensuring economic growth and competitiveness, improving employment and social conditions, enhancing personal and collective security, promoting a better environment and better health conditions, developing cohesion and solidarity between Member States as well as scientific and technological progress and, finally, improving its ability to act on the international scene.

A Reform Treaty will also set out a stable institutional system that will mean decisions can be taken quicker, more transparently, with better democratic control and with a strengthened respect of better regulation. Citizens will have a better idea of who is responsible for what and why the European Union is taking action. For the first time, one million citizens will also be able to directly request that the Commission brings forward an initiative of interest to them.

3. Will a Reform Treaty create a European  « Super-State  »?

No, a Reform Treaty will in no way create a new "Super-State". A Reform Treaty will be an international treaty agreed and ratified by sovereign Member States. A Reform Treaty will acknowledge that the Union reflects the will of the Member States and their citizens, and that its powers stem from these States.

The point is that a Reform Treaty will introduce some major institutional innovations, which will make the Union stronger and more effective, but not to the detriment of the Member States. Firstly, the basic relationship between the EU and the Member States will remain unchanged, so that any further substantial modification of the treaties will have to be decided and ratified by the Member States unanimously. Secondly, there will be a new, explicit obligation on the Union to respect, in all its actions, the national identities of the Member States. A Reform Treaty will be a significant step forward in allowing citizens to see who does what at the European and national levels. A Reform Treaty will provide a clarification of competences and principles applying to them.

4. Does the mandate undermine the EU by weakening the commitment to "free and undistorted competition"?

No. Competition policy is fundamental to the effective functioning of the single market for the benefit of consumers. That commitment is not weakened. While the existing treaties were not altered a proposal to include "free and undistorted competition" in the objectives of the Union was reconsidered. This reflected the recognition that competition is not an objective in itself but a means to an end. A legally binding Protocol confirmed this. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes underlined this when saying: "The Commission will continue to enforce Europe's competition rules firmly and fairly: to bust cartels and monopolies, to vet mergers, to control state subsidies".

5. Does a Reform Treaty make the decision-making process more democratic?

Clearly, yes. If ratified, a Reform Treaty will establish a clearer distribution of powers between the Union and the Member States, based on three categories, which will make easier for the citizens to understand "who does what". It will generalize (although with some exceptions) the "co-decision" procedure involving the directly elected European Parliament and the Council comprised of national Ministers. A Reform Treaty will contain more than 40 new areas of qualified majority voting.

A Reform Treaty strengthens the democratic control of the European Union with a stronger role for both the European Parliament and the national Parliaments. For the first time, citizens will be able to come together to propose that the Commission makes an initiative on an issue of interest to them.

6. Will more decisions be taken by qualified majority voting?

Unanimity will be retained in many areas including tax, foreign policy, defence, social security and culture. A Reform Treaty on the basis of the IGC mandate will move more than 40 areas to qualified majority voting (QMV). It is very much in the European Union's interest to adopt a more streamlined approach to decision-making, including on issues such as energy security and emergency humanitarian aid to hot-spots around the globe. Some of the other changes address relatively uncontroversial issues like citizens' initiatives, diplomatic and consulate protection, and procedural matters.

7. Can you explain the new voting system?

Qualified-majority voting will be based on the principle of the double majority. This means decisions will need the support of 55% of member states representing 65% of the EU's population. In order to make it impossible for too small a number of the most populous Member States to prevent a decision from being adopted, it is also foreseen that a blocking minority must comprise at least four Member States, otherwise the qualified majority will be considered to have been reached even if the population criterion is not met.

To respond to concerns raised by Poland that the system penalises it to the advantage of other large states, a compromise was reached to delay the introduction of the new system until 2014. From 1 November 2014 to 31 March 2017, the double majority system will be supplemented by an additional rule allowing for the recalculation of votes under the Treaty of Nice.

The IGC mandate foresees that this system would be supplemented by a Council decision, which is to be adopted when a Reform Treaty enters into force and the draft of which is contained in a declaration in the Final Act of the 2004 IGC. This decision reproduces a mechanism similar to the one in the decision referred to as the "Ioannina compromise" decision. In short it is like a time-out where the decision is delayed while solutions are sought for those which have difficulties.

It should be noted that the Council seeks to reach consensus amongst the member states and therefore rarely votes.

8. What changes are made to the Commission?

The role and responsibilities of the Commission are reaffirmed by the Reform Treaty. The role of the Commission is extended in the area of justice, liberty and security.

From 2014, the Commission will be reduced in size. There will no longer be a Commissioner to represent every member country - but two-thirds the number of member states. Each Commission must reflect satisfactorily the demographic and geographical scope of the Union.

Commissioners will be selected on a system of equal rotation among member states to serve five-year terms.

9. How does the President of the European Council's role change?

This is not a Presidential role like that in the US and France. It's essentially a chairman for the Council. The new President of the European Council will be appointed to serve for two and a half years, renewable once, instead of just six months as at present. There are no new powers, just greater coherence and consistency in managing the Council's priorities and its overall strategic approach and direction. The President of the European Council will also ensure the external representation of the Union on issues of common foreign and security policy at his or level and in that capacity without impeding the role of the High Representative. The job will be filled in 2009 at the earliest. Rotation between Member States on a 6-monthly basis will continue for the presidency of sectoral Council formations.

10. Will the number of members of the European Parliament change?

The Reform Treaty will state that there will be no more than 750 members of the European Parliament. The numbers for each country will be fixed in the treaty by a degressive proportional system with a maximum of 96 and a minimum of 6 for each country.

11. How will the Charter of Fundamental Rights improve the rights of European citizens? What will its impact be?

A Reform Treaty will make a cross-reference to the Charter as a real catalogue of rights that the Commission believes all citizens of the Union should enjoy vis-à-vis the Union's institutions and the Union's law binding guarantees. The six chapters of the Charter cover the following aspects: individual rights related to dignity; freedoms, equality, solidarity, rights linked to citizenship status and justice.

The institutions of the Union must respect the rights written into the Charter. The same obligations are incumbent upon the Member States when they implement the Union´s legislation. The Court of Justice will ensure that the Charter is applied correctly.

All this means more guarantees of rights and greater freedom for citizens. But the incorporation of the Charter creates no further extension of the Union´s powers. This is confirmed in the provisions and a declaration included in the IGC mandate.

12. Does a Reform Treaty weaken the social achievements?

Not at all. A Reform Treaty will maintain the social achievements. A highly competitive social market economy, full employment and social progress are included amongst the Union´s objectives. The coordination of Member States´ economic policies and employment policies is within the sphere of competence of the Union, which allows for the possible coordination of Member States´ social policies.

A Reform Treaty will contain a "social clause" whereby the social issues (promotion of a high level of employment, adequate social protection, fight against social exclusion, etc) must be taken into account when defining and implementing all policies.

Fundamental rights will also be recognised in the Reform Treaty through the incorporation of a legally binding reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It contains a section on solidarity, which lists a number of rights and principles directly relevant to the social field, such as the right to information and consultation within undertakings, the right to negotiate collective agreements and to take collective action, the right of access to free placement services and protection against unjustified dismissals, and the right to have access to social security and social assistance, etc.

13. Does a Reform Treaty put public services at risk?

No. A Reform Treaty will recognise as an indispensable instrument of social and regional cohesion. The Charter indicates that the Union recognises and respects the right of access to services of general economic interest as provided for in national laws and practices, in order to promote the social and territorial cohesion of the Union.

A Reform Treaty will refer to services of general economic interest as services to which "all in the Union attribute value" as well as their role in promoting its social and territorial cohesion.

As a consequence of the important value assigned to them, a Reform Treaty will ask the Union and its Member States to ensure that such services operate on the basis of principles and conditions, in particular economic and financial conditions, which enable them to fulfil their missions.

To allay the concerns of a number of member states, a special interpretative Protocol will be included in the Reform Treaty.

14. Does a Reform Treaty maintain the environmental achievements? What about climate change?

Yes, entirely. A Reform Treaty will state that one of the Union´s objectives is to work for the sustainable development of Europe based, in particular, on a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. Although the idea of sustainable development was not absent from the existing treaties, a Reform Treaty will reinforce and better define this objective. Sustainable development is also affirmed as one of the fundamental objectives of the Union in its relations with the wider world, which is totally new.

The environment is one the spheres of competence shared between the Union and the Member States. When the Union intervenes in this area, it must contribute to the pursuit of clear objectives: preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment; protecting human health; promoting prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources; promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems.

Following the Reflection Period, it has also been decided to include a reference to the need to combat climate change in measures at international level. A Reform Treaty will therefore help to reinforce the fight against climate change.

15. What improvements will be made in the area of justice and home affairs?

In the area of freedom, security and justice, the Reform Treaty will be a major step forward, thanks to the use in almost all circumstances of the Community method, with an enhanced role for the European Parliament and of qualified-majority voting, which have been combined with the development of the democratic control of the national parliaments in criminal and police matters. Special arrangements will be extended for Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

16. Will Europe´s voice in the world be stronger with a Reform Treaty?

Yes, undoubtedly this will be one of its major achievements. Most of the external relations provisions of the existing treaties will be regrouped in a single Title of a Reform Treaty. This will improve their readability and promotes the coherence of the Union´s action. It also makes it possible to set out common principles and objectives for the Union´s external action: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity.

A Reform Treaty will establishes a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who is a new institutional player with "two hats", meaning that he/she will exercise the functions of the High Representative for CFSP and at the same time be the Vice-President of the Commission. This will raise the EU´s profile in the world, as this new function will enable the "common European interest" to be progressively promoted in common foreign and security policy. It will also have the advantage of "putting a face" on the Union.

The High Representative will be assisted by a joint service, the European External Action Service (EEAS) that will be composed of officials from the Council, the Commission and the diplomatic services of the Member States.

A Reform Treaty will also introduce a specific legal base for humanitarian aid. This provision puts the emphasis on the application of the principles of international law and of impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination. It also contains a legal base to create a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps.

17. What will the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy do?

The envisaged post of "foreign minister" has been dropped in favour of a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. He or she will also become Vice-President of the Commission, and will chair the General Affairs and External Relations Council..

The IGC will agree that the establishment of the post will not affect "the responsibilities of the member states, as they currently exist, for the formulation and conduct of their foreign policy or their national representation in third countries and international organisations".

18. What does a Reform Treaty mean for trade policy?

The Reform Treaty will extend the scope of the trade policy to include all foreign direct investments and makes it clearly an exclusive competence of the Union. Transport agreements remain excluded from trade policy. As far as the decision-making mechanism is concerned, a Reform Treaty will simplify the existing wording in the treaties. Qualified majority voting is the general rule but unanimity applies when a trade agreement includes provisions for which unanimity is required for the adoption of internal rules. Secondly, qualified majority voting will not apply to agreements on trade in cultural and audiovisual services, (if such agreements risk prejudicing the Union´s linguistic and cultural diversity) and to agreements in the field of social, education and health services (these risks seriously disturbing the national organisation of such services).

The Reform Treaty will enhance parliamentary control of EU trade policy, as it substantially increases the role of the European Parliament, which until now had no role

19. Will a new Treaty mean anything for Africa or countries needing development or humanitarian aid?

A Reform Treaty will introduce for the first time a specific legal basis for humanitarian aid. That provision stresses the specificity of the policy and the application of the principles of international humanitarian law, in particular impartiality and non-discrimination. A Reform Treaty will clearly state that the reduction and the eradication of poverty is the primary objective of the Union´s development cooperation policy. That goal must be respected when the Union implements policies likely to affect developing countries. This implies also that development policy is a policy in its own right, and not an accessory of common foreign and security policy.

In case of urgent financial aid, the Council acts by qualified majority upon a proposal from the Commission. This should mean quicker financial aid in the future.

A Reform Treaty will classify development cooperation and humanitarian aid as "shared parallel competences": this means that the Union conducts an autonomous policy, which neither prevents the Member states from exercising their competences nor makes the Union´s policy merely "complementary" to those of the member states

20. How and when a new Reform Treaty will 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.

Reproduced with the permission of the European Commission REF MEMO 07/283