INDEPTH: EUROPEAN UNION|
The EU Constitution: FAQs
CBC News Online | June 20, 2005
Canadians are certainly well acquainted with the intricacies and vagaries of constitutional reform. Twice, Canadian voters (the Charlottetown Accord) or their legislatures (the Meech Lake Accord) have failed to ratify attempts to change the Constitution.
But we, at least, had a fallback – however flawed some may find it. In our case, the status quo was the patriated 1982 Constitution.
But the rejection by French voters of the EU constitution on May 29, 2005, and a similar rejection in the Netherlands three days later created a situation different from anything that took place in Canada.
While there are existing treaties governing some aspects of European integration, there isn't really a formal fallback constitution that accomplishes what the EU constitution was trying to do.
Simply put, the No votes took the air out of the EU's constitutional soufflé and called into question just how unified the European Union can ever become.
That it was two of the EUís founding members that refused to ratify the constitution has left Europeans in the other 23 EU countries wondering what the rejections mean, and where the EU movement goes from here.
What is the EU constitution?
The constitution defines and streamlines the reality of what it means to be a member of a European Union that is now 25 countries strong (10 countries joined in 2004). It's a rule book that spells out the powers of the EU and the role of its institutions, makes it easier to govern, and expands the EU's responsibilities to include such areas as immigration and refugee policy.
It also makes the EU presidency a more powerful and more permanent office. Currently, the European Council presidency rotates every six months among its member states. Under the new constitution, the president would be elected for a 30-month term, which could be renewed for a further 30 months.
The constitution also strengthens the role of the European Parliament and gives the EU a "legal personality" so it can sign international agreements itself.
The constitution also proposes to gradually slim down the size of the European Commission (the body that executes EU laws) from its current 25 members (one per member state) to 18 within five years.
It also includes a charter of "rights, freedoms and principles," as well as a procedure that spells out how a member state can withdraw from the EU.
What is the status of the EU constitution's ratification?
All 25 states must ratify the EU constitution for it to become law, either through approval in the member country's national parliament or by the approval of the country's citizenry in a national referendum.
So far, nine of the EU's 25 members have ratified it:
The upper and lower houses of Germanyís parliament have given their approval to the constitution, but it must still be signed by the countryís president for ratification to be official. Horst Koehler has said he will wait until the German constitutional court rules on an MPís complaint against parliamentís approval of the document before he signs.
Austria - ratified by parliament May 25, 2005.
- Greece - ratified by parliament April 19, 2005.
- Hungary - ratified by parliament Dec. 20, 2004.
- Italy - ratified by parliament April 6, 2005.
- Latvia - ratified by parliament June 2, 2005.
- Lithuania - ratified by parliament Nov. 11, 2004.
- Slovakia - ratified by parliament May 11, 2005.
- Slovenia - ratified by parliament Feb. 1, 2005.
- Spain - approved by 77 per cent of voters in referendum Feb. 20, 2005. Subsequently ratified by Senate, May 18, 2005.
In the wake of the Dutch and French rejections of the constitution, several countries have postponed their own referendums. Britain had planned on holding a referendum in the spring of 2006, but the government has put that off indefinitely.
What happens now?
If the proposed EU constitution doesn't win unanimous ratification, it dies. EU leaders have agreed to extend the deadline for ratification beyond November 2006. They havenít specified what the new date will be.
France and the Netherlands could, of course, decide to hold a second vote. There's certainly precedent for that in the history of voting on European treaties.
Voters in the Netherlands approved the Nice Treaty on the second try and Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 before approving a modified version the following year.
But revotes don't appear likely at this point. Some countries may now try to formally declare this constitutional attempt dead.
But others say EU leaders are more likely to try to get some key parts of the EU constitution adopted by other means. Or there could be an attempt to begin work on a slimmed-down, more accessible constitution that would have a better chance of public acceptance.
For the countries that have already ratified the constitution, it could be back to square one.
And what of the decision to begin talks with Turkey on possible EU membership? Will those talks still proceed in October 2005?
In the meantime, the EU will continue to exist, the European Parliament will continue to meet, and the euro currency will continue to change hands (at least, in countries that chose to adopt it).
But there is little doubt that the movement towards fuller European integration suffered a major blow with the two No votes Ė slaps heard all over Europe.