The Reform Treaty: two treaties for the price of one?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The EU’s Reform Treaty has actually produced two treaties: “a treaty on the EU, which contains most of the institutional provisions, and a second treaty on the functioning of the Union”, write Daniel Gros and Stefano Micossi of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Although the road to the Reform Treaty has been painful, the final agreement – in which “most of the substance of the failed Constitution has been preserved” – will serve the EU well, believe the authors. 

The October commentary remarks that the treaty’s two-level structure is an “important innovation”, providing for a fundamental law on which everyone must agree, and “specific policies on which dissent is normal and can thus be modified more easily”. 

The authors claim the new treaty improves decision-making through the permanent, elected presidency for the Council, as well as its institutionalisation and new voting mechanism based on majorities of countries and population, thus providing “a better equilibrium between big and small countries”. 

Gros and Micossi argue that the democratic control mechanisms are improved too, with the new treaty making national parliaments and the European Court of Justice the “gatekeepers of subsidiarity”, and even providing for powers to be returned to the member states “with a simple decision of the Council”. 

They say that it will be interesting to see whether the different national debates over the treaty can be kept separate, with some member states arguing that it is radically different to the failed Constitution, and others arguing that it remains almost identical. 

Under the new set up, the Council and Parliament both gain in power at the Commission’s expense, outlines the CEPS paper, with the Commission keeping its role as guardian of the treaties but having to share its power to initiate legislation with the new Council president. 

Discussions about whether the Commission or Council president is the “true ‘president’ of Europe” are inevitable, say the authors. 

The CEPS commentary concludes that the new treaty reaffirms the notion that the EU “takes a step forward only by creating a new disequilibrium, which will not be addressed until experience has shown that the new set-up needs to be improved again”, adding that it is clear that the text “is not the last word on the structure of the EU”. 

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