Debating the Constitution: between realism and revival

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As the German Presidency searches for a way out of the impasse over the Constitutional Treaty ahead of the June summit, European Policy Centre (EPC) analysts Sara Hageman and Antonio Missiroli examine the alternatives that have been suggested for moving forward. 

The authors warn of the need to canvass public opinion and build support for the emerging deal during the negotiation process itself if a rapid agreement on a new Treaty is to be reached – in order to prevent the public from concluding that EU governments have learnt nothing from the ‘No’ votes in 2005. 

Almost three years since the Constitutional Treaty was agreed upon by member states, the EU is still working on the basis of the institutional framework agreed in Nice in December 2000. It must be acknowledged that the ambitious plan to reform the Union and bring it closer to citizens – launched at the Laeken Council in 2001 – has failed, declare Hageman and Missiroli. 

It is widely accepted that there is no chance of the Constitutional Treaty being ratified as it currently stands given the unanimity requirement, with only 18 countries having ratified the Treaty so far, the EPC paper observes. Widely differing opinions as to the way forward represent another stumbling block, with member states announcing their ‘red line’ issues ahead of renewed negotiations, write Hageman and Missiroli. 

Their paper suggests several possible solutions to the impasse. The first involves a broad reorganisation of the treaty text that inserts sizeable sections as annexes, contains no reference to the future size of the Commission or Parliament, and drops the name ‘Constitution’. Their second suggestion adds references to climate change, energy security and solidarity, illegal immigration, and a full version of the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ for candidate countries. Their third – favoured by the German presidency – envisages only minor changes, preserving the substance of the 2004 text. 

The authors then outline a potential compromise solution to the voting issue, in the form of a ‘square-root’ system, whereby the number of votes that each country gets in the Council is roughly based on the square root of its population in millions – striking an objective balance between size and population on the one hand, and a marginal over-representation of small countries on the other. 

The paper concludes that the main challenge lies in rapidly forging a deal that is incisive and consistent enough to ensure that the EU-27 functions efficiently and effectively, but is also capable of being accepted and ratified by all the member states. 

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