The EU is set to launch an Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels today (23 July) to revise its institutions and power-sharing system amid growing calls in the UK to submit the draft ‘Reform Treaty’ to a referendum.
The Portuguese Presidency will formally open the IGC on 23 July, officially beginning the revision of its institutions after EU heads of states clinched an eleventh-hour agreement at a Summit in June.
The IGC will be launched at midday in the margins of a meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Brussels. The ceremony will take place in the presence of Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Vice-President Margot Wallström, in charge of communications policy.
The IGC’s task will be to translate the Summit’s political agreement into legal form and prepare a text to revise the current treaties. It is scheduled to conclude ahead of a Summit in Lisbon in October that will formally adopt the final draft. The agreed text will then be submitted for ratification in all 27 member states, a process that is scheduled to be completed in time for the June 2009 European elections.
However, the IGC will be more than just a legal affair. Many have criticised the draft text for being too similar to the EU Constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 and argued that it should again be put to a referendum.
British Conservatives in particular have argued that the changes are too far-reaching to be agreed without the public’s consent. “We will keep up the pressure on Gordon Brown to come clean with the British people and offer the referendum they were promised by this government,” said Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope.
Ireland is the only country that has so far indicated it intends to opt for this route of ratification.
But according to the Commission, the IGC’s task will be significantly different from previous meetings as the mandate agreed by EU leaders in June is “extremely precise” and “detailed to the point of setting out Treaty language to be inserted”.
President Barroso has asked EU governments to “put the debate on institutional reform behind us so that we can concentrate all our energies on delivering policy reform for the benefit of citizens”.