The Reform Treaty and its implications explained

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An agreement on the new Reform Treaty looks likely at this week’s summit, according to Hugo Brady and Katinka Barysch of the Centre for European Reform (CER).

However, the difficulty of agreeing a treaty among 27 countries will “dissuade EU governments from carrying out a similar exercise any time soon”, they add. 

The new treaty, expected to come into force in 2009 (subject to ratification), will make the enlarged EU work better by establishing simpler, clearer decision-making rules, streamlining foreign policy, and giving the Union a greater role in police and justice cooperation, states the October paper. 

Meanwhile, it abandons the “constitutional trappings” of the previous draft, and does not fundamentally alter the balance of power between the member states and its institutions, the authors explain. 

The CER paper outlines the key provisions of the new treaty: 

  • A full-time Council president, for a two and a half year, renewable term. 
  • A clearer, fairer and more transparent voting system based on the “double majority” system. 
  • smaller Commission capped at two-thirds the number of member states from 2014. 
  • stronger foreign policy representative, creating the post of High Representative for Foreign Policy by merging the roles of the Council High Representative and the commissioner for external action. 
  • An extension of majority voting to 50 new areas, most of them minor, and most notably concerning cooperation on fighting terrorism, crime and immigration. 
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights will become legally binding, though only on European legislation. 
  • stronger role for national parliaments, who now have the right to challenge European legislation that they consider unnecessary. 

It is likely that most member states will ratify the treaty in their national parliaments rather than by holding referendums, believe the authors – including Britain, which got “everything it wanted” during the negotiations. 

The paper concludes that the main lesson that EU leaders will draw from this process is “never again”. An EU of 27, with new members likely, means that reaching the complex and fragile compromise required of an EU treaty has become “very difficult”. 

Instead, the authors suggest that the EU adopts treaties on specific issues such as climate change, or smaller groups of countries go ahead with their own new projects and policies outside of the established framework, citing harmonising tax bases, integrating defence forces and aligning criminal law as possible candidates for this. 

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