Intergovernmental Conference 2003-2004

EU governments began an Intergovernmental
conference (IGC) on 4 October 2003 to revise the draft
Constitutional Treaty, adopted by the European Convention on 10
July. Heads of State and Government of the EU-25 failed to
agree on the Council voting system during the IGC session of
12-13 December 2003. The European Council on 17-18 June 2004,
however, brought the IGC to a conclusion.

The EU Founding Treaties can only be
modified with the consent of all of the Member States
within an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). The IGC
takes the form of negotiations among the Member States
with the aim of modifying or supplementing the treaties.
The EU has held five such conferences to modify its
founding treaties with the aim of deepening the European
integration process. The past IGCs set up the European
Single Market and the Economic and Monetary Union.

The sixth IGC, which began in October
2003, was the first one to be preceded by a Convention, a
forum made u p of elected representatives and officials
from the 15 Member States, 13 candidate countries and EU
institutions as well as representatives of
non-governmental and academic organisations, industry
federations and trade unions. After 16 months of
discussions, the Convention adopted a draft proposal for
an EU Constitutional Treaty which will serve as a
starting point for the IGC.

A new IGC had been called for by the
EU leaders to amend the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice
which did not fulfill their role of preparing the Union
for enlargement. Although the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997
introduced substantial changes with a view to future
enlargement, the amendments were not sufficient to allow
for an inclusion of 10 and more new members in the
EU.

The EU adopted a new Treaty at the
European Council in Nice in December 2000 to amend the
Amsterdam Treaty. However, the Nice Treaty also failed to
lay the foundations for an enlarged EU despite
introducing a few important changes regarding the
composition of the Commission, the seats of the European
Parliament, the reweighting of votes by the Council and
the extension of majority voting.

The intergovernmental method -
negotiations among national governments behind closed
doors - reached its limits in Nice. The EU appeared to be
further and further removed from its citizens and the
decision-making process appeared to be in the hands of
unelected bureaucrats rather than elected
representatives. Realising this, the EU leaders decided
to convene a Convention in order to facilitate a broad
and open debate on the future of Europe. The Convention's
task was to draw up the new institutional architecture of
the EU and prepare the next IGC.

The declared aims of EU Treaty changes
to be decided at the sixth IGC are:

  • bringing the EU closer to its citizens,
  • strengthening the EU's democratic character,
  • facilitating the EU's capacity to make decisions,
    especially after its enlargement,
  • enhancing the EU's ability to act as a coherent and
    unified force in the international system and
  • effectively deal with the challenges globalisation
    and interdependence create.

The Thessaloniki European Council
decided on 20 June 2003 that the text of the Draft
Constitutional Treaty is a good basis for starting in the
Intergovernmental Conference. The EU heads of state and
government asked the Italian Presidency to convene this
conference in October 2003. The conference should
complete its work and agree the Constitutional Treaty as
soon as possible and in time for it to become known to
European citizens before the June 2004 elections for the
European Parliament. The leaders decided that the
Constitutional Treaty is to be signed by the Member
States of the enlarged Union as soon as possible after 1
May 2004, the envisaged date of enlargement.

The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC)
will be conducted by the Heads of State or Government,
assisted by the members of the General Affairs and
External Relations Council. The representative of the
Commission will participate in the Conference. The 10
future Member States will participate in the IGC on an
equal footing with the current Member States. The
European Parliament will be closely associated and
involved in the work of the Conference. The three
candidate countries - Bulgaria and Romania, with whom
accession negotiations are underway, and Turkey - will
take part in all meetings of the Conference as
observers.

Several contentious issues had to be
resolved at the IGC:

  • Smaller countries feared that the draft
    Constitutional Treaty favours bigger countries. They
    especially oppose replacing the 
    six-month rotating presidency

    with a 
    permanent president

    of the European Council. They also objected to
    proposals that only 15 members would have voting rights
    in a streamlined 
    European Commission

    .

  • A new 
    voting system

    for the Council: During the Convention, 16 countries,
    including Spain and Britain, argued that the present
    qualified majority voting system should be kept.

  • Some Member States supported the extension of 
    qualified majority voting

    to the areas of taxation, immigration, foreign policy
    and culture. The Convention decided to keep the right
    of veto in these areas under pressure from the big
    Member States.

The approval of the final text of the Constitution by
all 25 heads of government was scheduled to take place by
mid-December 2003 to allow for the final text to be
translated into all 20 official languages and signed in
Rome in early May 2004. This would have provided voters
with enough time before the European Parliament elections
to have a clearer idea of what kind of Europe they would
be voting on. The goal was for the Constitution to come
into force in 2005.

Failure at IGC summit meeting 12-13 December
2003

The IGC meeting failed to conclude negotiations on the
EU Constitution but it was not altogether unsuccessful.
EU leaders agreed on the 
composition of the Commission

, namely to retain the one Commissioner per country
principle, as well as to increase the minimum number
of 
seats in the European Parliament

. Moreover, they agreed not to re-open discussions on
issues already agreed in past negotiations. 

Two issues were left unresolved which led the EU's
political leaders to establish that the EU summit could
not be concluded during the mandate of the Italian
Presidency. One was the disagreement over whether to
extend 
qualified majority voting

(QMV) in areas such as social policy and taxation.

The other more major source of disagreement related to
the 
definition of QMV

, with Poland and Spain not willing to give up the voting
weight granted to them by the Nice Treaty despite a
last-minute compromise proposal by Italian Prime Minister
Berlusconi to extend this vote weighting to 2014.

Following the failure of the EU summit many expect
that new avenues will be sought by countries wishing for
further integration, increasing the likelihood of a
"two-speed Europe". Germany and France were quick to
announce their intention to forge closer co-operation
with like-minded countries.

EU leaders inject 'political will' into the
continuation of the IGC at the European Council of
25-26 March 2004

EU leaders met for a dinner discussion on the future
of the IGC on 25 March. Having considered the 
progress report of the Irish Presidency

, they decided to 'reaffirm their commitment to reaching
agreement on the Constitutional Treaty'. Formal
negotiations in the IGC are set to resume with the
objective of reaching an agreement on the Constitutional
Treaty by the June European Council (17-18 June
2004).

IGC concluded and Constitutional Treaty agreed
at the European Council on 17-18 June 2004

By late in the evening on 18 June the leaders of the
European Union managed to strike a deal on the
Constitution (see also 
EURACTIV 21 June 2004

). 

"C'est un bon texte pour l'Europe, c'est un bon texte
pour les Europ.s [This is a good text for Europe, a good
text for Europeans]," said 
Valy Giscard d'Estaing

, Chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe at a
joint press briefing on 21 June with Vice Chairman 
Jean-Luc Dehaene

. Giscard d'Estaing welcomed the adoption of the
Constitution which, they underlined, has retained more
than 90 per cent of the text proposed by the Convention.
Dehaene highlighted the importance of the
Convention-method which "has brought with it something
new in European affairs."  

A press release by 
UNICE

, the EU-wide umbrella organisation representing
employers, states that the new Constitutional Treaty
provides a good basis to strengthen the competitiveness
of the EU, enhance the economies of the EU and their
ability to fully realise the potentials of monetary
union, and to strengthen the EU's economic power on the
international stage.

UEAPME

, the European Association of Craft Small and
Medium-sized Enterprises, has regretted the failure of
the European Council to give the go-ahead for extending
qualified majority voting to taxation. "We have now a
framework that ensures the long term viability of the
decision making process in an enlarged Europe, but we
still have an obstacle to the finalisation of the
Internal Market which is the unanimity vote rule for
taxation issues," said Hans-Werner Mý Secretary
General of UEAPME.

ETUC

, the European Trade Union Confederation, has regretted
the fact that "the agreement has reduced ambitions,
compared to the draft of the European Convention". A
press release issued on 21 June acknowledges that while
the Constitutional Treaty is a big step forward in
comparison with the Nice Treaty, in relation to the
Convention's draft, the IGC resulted in a "second best
solution".

The 
EU Civil Society Contact Group

, comprising NGOs in six policy areas (environment,
social, women, development, human rights and culture) has
welcomed the Convention process which involved civil
society organisations and trade unions but deplored the
IGC process which resulted in a "political deal but not a
vision for Europe."

Political parties

The 
Greens

in the European Parliament have expressed dissatisfaction
with the intergovernmental method. "The change from the
convention method to the intergovernmental method has
resulted in the Council settling on the lowest common
denominator. The heads of state and government were more
concerned about their ability to block decisions than to
make decisions," said Johannes Voggenhuber, Member of the
European Convention.

Chairman of the Group of the 
European People's Party

Hans-Gert Pýring has said that the Constitution was
"the basis for our common future" although he regretted
the fact that Council voting has proven to be a "complex
compromise" which due to different "exception mechanisms"
[blocking minorities, etc] "is not characterised by great
clarity" and has not led to the simplification of the
decision making procedures.

"Despite the red lines and the last minute
manoeuvring, the new enlarged Europe just got the deal it
needed," said Graham Watson, leader of the 
European Liberal Democrat and Reform
Group

in the European Parliament. "The Governments who have
approved this Constitution now have a duty to go home and
sell it to their people," said Watson. 

President of the Party of European 
Socialists

Group Enrique Barqánd PES leader Poul Nyrup
Rasmussen stated in a joint press release that "The
constitution (...) will serve as a good basis on which we
can work for a more just an d social Europe".

Member States

The 
Czech

President Vaclav Klaus regretted the adoption of the EU
Constitution saying that it was an "unfortunate"
development days after the European electorate failed to
give support to many of the EU leaders at the negotiating
table. The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, however,
said that the Constitution was "an important step, a
great progress" which will ensure that Europe remains an
important global player.

Polish

President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that the EU has
obtained a more solid foundation through the Treaty and
called the EU Constitution a good compromise for Poland.
Caretaker Prime Minister Marek Belka has reportedly said
to Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita that, although he
would have been prepared to break up the summit a couple
of times, he decided to hold out in order not to weaken
Poland's future negotiating position on the budget and
the Treaty (in a next attempt).

Italy

hopes that the historic treaty could be signed in Rome in
the autumn.

Britain

upheld throughout the IGC its "red-line issues", ie
unanimity to remain for treaty change, tax, social
security, defence and the system of own resources. A
referendum in the UK is due to take place during the
second half of 2005 or early 2006. Its outcome is highly
uncertain following strong support given by the British
public to the eurosceptic UK Independence Party.

Germany

pushed for the extension of qualified majority voting for
foreign policy decisions against strong opposition of
Britain. On the other hand, throught the IGC Germany
insisted on the right of veto for decisions in the area
of immigration. The Convention had given Berlin
guarantees that it would keep the right to set the quotas
for legal migrants seeking employment in Germany.

The surprise win of the Socialist party in Spanish
national elections held on 14 March 2004 left Poland
isolated with its reluctance to accept the double
majority voting system. Following his victory, 
Spain

's new Prime Minister JosÌuis Rodrµez Zapatero
declared his intention to rapidly find an agreement on
the new EU Constitution.

Following the change in the European political
landscape, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller
immediately signalled that 
Poland

should avoid being left on its own as regards the EU
Constitution. "We have to find a solution which will not
lead to that isolation," Mr Miller said.

Turkish

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has welcomed the decision
of not including a reference to Christianity in the EU
Constitution. "This is a good Constitution which fulfils
the expectations of Turkey," Gul said.

The ratification of the Treaty, which is scheduled to
take two years, begins following its signing in Rome
on 29 October 2004.

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