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Treaty of Nice
- the Treaty on European Union, or Maastricht Treaty, which introduced the Euro and the 3-pillar structure of the EU;
- the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.
Provisions of the Treaty
The primary purpose of the Treaty of Nice was to reform the institutional structure to withstand the Enlargement of the European Union, a task which was supposed to have been carried out at the Amsterdam Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), but the Treaty of Amsterdam failed to address most of the issues.
The Treaty adopted by the Nice European Council was attacked by many. Germany had demanded that its greater population be reflected in a higher vote weighting in the Council; this was opposed by France, who insisted that the symbolic parity between France and Germany be maintained. One proposal made by many, which would have greatly simplified the current system, was to introduce a double majority of both member states and population, to replace the current Qualified Majority Voting QMV system. This was also rejected by France for similar reasons. A compromise was reached, which provided for a double majority of Member States and votes cast, and in which a Member State could optionally request verification that the countries voting in favour represented a sufficient proportion of the Union's population.
The Treaty provided for an increase after enlargement of the number of seats in the European Parliament to 732, which exceeded the cap established by the Treaty of Amsterdam.
The question of a reduction in the size of the European Commission after enlargement was resolved by a fudge -- the Treaty providing that once the number of Member States reached 25, the number of Commissioners would be reduced by the Council to below 25, but without actually specifying the target of that reduction.
The Nice Treaty provides for new rules on closer co-operation, the rules introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam being viewed as unworkable, and hence these rules have not yet been used.
In response to the failed sanctions against Austria following a coalition including Jörg Haider's party having come to power, and fears about possible future threats to the stability of the new member states to be admitted in enlargement, the Treaty of Nice for the first time adopted formal rules for the application of sanctions against a Member State.
It was widely accepted that the Treaty of Nice has failed to deal with the basic question of wide-ranging institutional reform, the European Union institutions being widely viewed as overly complicated, and hence the establishment of the European Convention, leading to a new IGC in 2004, was agreed at Nice.
The Commission and the European Parliament were disappointed that the Nice IGC did not adopt many of their proposals for reform of the institutional structure or introduction of new Community powers, such as the appointment of a European Public Prosecutor. The European Parliament threatened to pass a resolution against the Treaty; although it has no formal power of veto, the Italian Parliament threatened that it would not ratify without the European Parliament's support. However, in the end this did not come to pass and the European Parliament approved the Treaty.
Many argue that the pillar structure, which was maintained by the Treaty, is overly complicated, that the separate Treaties should be merged into one Treaty, and that the three (now two) separate legal personalities of the Communities should be merged, and that the European Community and the European Union should be merged with the European Union being endowed with legal personality. The German regions were also demanding a clearer separation of the powers of the Union from the Member States.
Nor did the Treaty of Nice deal with the question of the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Treaty; that was also left for the 2004 IGC after the opposition of the United Kingdom.
Under the current rules for the amendment of the Treaties, the Treaties can only be amended by a new Treaty, which must be ratified by each of the Member States to enter into force.
In all the EU member states the Treaty of Nice was ratified by parliamentary procedure, except in Ireland, where the Irish Supreme Court in an earlier judgment on the Single European Act had ruled that fundamental changes to European Treaties, which alter the Irish Constitution's recognition of sovereignty as being ultimately derived from the People, require an amendment to the Irish constitution. Ireland's constitution can only be amended by a referendum of the people.
To the surprise of Europe's political classes, the voters in Ireland rejected the Nice Treaty in May 2001. The turnout itself was low, partly a result of the failure of the major Irish political parties to mount a strong campaign on the issue, presuming that the Irish electorate would pass the Treaty. (All previous such Treaties had been passed by big majorities.) However many Irish voters were critical of the Treaty contents, believing that it marginalised smaller states. Others questioned the impact of the Treaty on Irish neutrality. Other sections viewed the leadership of the Union as out of touch and arrogant, with the Treaty offering a perceived chance to 'shock' the European leadership into a greater willingness to listen to its critics. (A similar argument was made when Denmark initially voted down the Treaty of Maastricht.) In large measure, the Nice Treaty was lost because pro-treaty supporters simply never bothered to vote, while the 'Vote No' campaigns were effective in raising serious questions as to the value of the Treaty.
The Irish government controversially, and possibly illegally, due to the treaty being unchanged, decided to have another referendum on the Treaty of Nice on Saturday, October 19, 2002. A 'Yes' vote was urged by a massive campaign by the main parties, and by television interviews by respected pro-European figures like then EP president Pat Cox, former Czech president Václav Havel, former President of Ireland Patrick Hillery and former Taoiseach (prime minister) Dr. Garret Fitzgerald. The result was a 60% "Yes" vote on near double the turn-out of the previous referendum. Rural Ireland's verdict of 'No' was unchanged, but greatly outweighted by a high 'Yes' vote from the cities. It is generally accepted that most people voted NO the first time because the treaty was not explained to them properly and they did not want to risk approving of provisions of a treaty without a full understanding of it.
By then all other EU member states had ratified the Treaty. Ratification by all parties was required by the end of the year, or else the Treaty would expire.
Views of the Treaty
Proponents of the Treaty claim it is a utilitarian adjustment to cumbersome EU governing mechanisms and a required streamlining of decision-making processes, necessary to facilitate enlargement of the EU into Central Europe. They claim that consequently is vitally important for the integration and future progress of these former communist countries. Many who are in favour of greater scope and power of the EU project, feel that it does not go far enough in fact, and that it may in any case be superseded by future treaties and agreements (such as a possible EU constitution and federal state). Proponents differ in the extent to which enlargement may proceed without it, some claiming the very future of the Union's growth - if not existence - to be at stake, while others saying that enlargement can legally proceed - albeit at a slower pace - without it.
Opponents of the Treaty claim that it is a "technocratic" rather than "democratic" treaty, which further diminishes the sovereignty of national/local parliaments, and further concentrating power into centralised and unaccountable bureaucracy - "deepening but not widening" political power. They also claim that 5 applicants may join at once under the current system, and that all others may negotiate on an individual basis - which they believe will be advantageous to the applicants. It is also claimed that the Nice Treaty will create a two-class and two-tier EU, specifically to enable an "inner-club" of powerful states (e.g. France and Germany) to effectively co-opt EU institutions for their own purposes. Opponents point out that leading pro-treaty politicians have admitted, that were referenda to be held in countries other than Ireland, it would probably be defeated there as well.
Timeline of the Treaties and EU Constitution
- Official multilingual portal of the Treaty of Nice (European Commission)
- Summary of the Treaty
- Consolidated verison of the Treaties
- "Landmark EU treaty comes into effect" - BBC News article dated February 1, 2003
- History of the European Union - Treaty of Nice
- Analysis of the voting weighs before and after, width 3D visualisation
- Book about the Treaty of Nice (also as PDF)
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