European Constitution Signed in Rome
Friday, October 29, 2004 10:25 AM

Under the guard of 7,000 police and security forces and a squadron of F-16 fighters, EU leaders from 25 member states took turns today to sign the new European Constitution. The signing ceremony took place in the same room where the original Treaty of Rome was signed by France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in 1957. 

The new Constitution is a departure from the original Treaty. It contains some 300 pages and over 400 articles and will replace most of the EU treaties already in existence. The document redefines the European Union, its values and institutions, incorporates the Charter on fundamental rights, describes the policy and actions of the EU and contains clauses providing for procedures for approval and possible revisions to the text. 

When ratified, the EU will get a permanent chair of the European Council, a new EU foreign minister, a new voting system based on a double majority of member states and population will be put in place, the number of commissioners will be reduced by two thirds, and the European Parliament will enjoy an increase in power. The Constitution also provides, for the first time, exit and solidarity clauses. These allow member states to leave the Union and commit member states the aid of other member states when under a terrorist attack, respectively.

Such changes embodied in the Constitution will give rise to a more democratic European Union, said incoming EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. 

The signing ceremony and the optimism surrounding the event occurred despite controversy involving prospective Italian EU Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione's conservative views on homosexuality and the role of women and the push by several center-right politicians to include a reference to Europe's Christian heritage in the national statutes ratifying the Constitution. 

Whether this controversy will effect the willingness of states to ratify the Constitution is unclear. 11 member of the EU have committed themselves to holding referendum. Yet the text cannot take effect until all 25 EU members have ratified it by referendum or through their national parliament. Certain countries, such as France and the UK, intend to hold public votes on the issue. Spain is expected to lead the first vote in February.

Compiled from: "EU Leaders Sign New Constitution," Europe, World, BBC News, 29 October 2004.

"European Constitution to be Signed in Rome Today," Lisbeth Kirk, Headlines, News,, 29 October 2004.