EU Leaders Deliberate About Proposed European Constitution
Thursday, June 17, 2004 4:45 PM

The draft European Union Constitution is currently being reviewed by the Intergovernmental Conference meeting on June 17-18 at the occasion of the European Council meeting in Brussels. If the Constitution is approved by the Member State representatives at the Conference, it will need to be ratified by each Member State, a process that is estimated to last two years. Once ratified, the Constitution will make the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union binding on EU Member States for the first time. The Charter of Fundamental Rights covers the entire range of civil, political, economic and social rights of European Union citizens and residents. Chapter One, Dignity, prohibits forced labor or slavery, including the trafficking of persons (Article 5). Chapter Three, Equality, addresses non-discrimination (Article 21) and equality between men and women (Article 23).

On April 1, 2004, the leaders of the 25 current and future Member States of the European Union unanimously committed themselves to reaching an agreement on the European Draft Constitution by their June 17-18, 2004 EU Council Summit. A similar effort six months ago was unable to produce an agreement. Increased political pressure to decide on the Constitution has been complicated by the recent European Parliament elections of June 14, which gave increased representation to “Euroskeptic” political groups.

A number of significant issues remain to be faced at the Intergovernmental Conference being held June 17-18. Medium-sized nations, including Spain and Poland, are resisting a voting system that would reduce the sizable influence they are currently accorded. In response, the EU’s presidency has just proposed modifying the “double majority” voting system (requiring a 50% majority of Member States and 60% of the EU population) by increasing Member State and population majority requirements to 55% and 65%, respectively. In other areas, Italy and Poland strongly favor including a reference in the preamble to God as a source of European values, an issue that is opposed by France and Belgium. Britain still favors keeping a veto right for taxation, social security and criminal law policies. Britain also wants a guarantee that the Charter of Fundamental Rights won’t create any new rights under national law that would affect Britain’s flexible labor laws. The Irish Presidency of the EU, as well as the leaders of France and Germany, remain optimistic about reaching an agreement on schedule.

The biweekly bulletin of the Constitutional Convention tracks the latest developments on the Constitution agreement process. The webpage of the Irish presidency of the European Council also covers the latest developments of the Intergovernmental Conference.