Revived Roman Empire/
Signing of European Union (EU) Constitution
European Constitution to be signed in Rome today
29.10.2004 - 09:52 CET | By Lisbeth Kirk
EUOBSERVER / ROME - EU leaders from the 25 member states will arrive in Rome today for the formal signing of the new European Constitution - officially starting the two-year ratification period.
Symbolically, the ceremony will take place in the same room as the signing of the original Treaty of Rome by the then six member states - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg - in 1957.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi fought a hard battle to get the document signed in Rome - although Italy failed to get the document agreed under its EU Presidency in the second half of last year.
It was eventually agreed under the Irish EU Presidency in June.
A mammoth document
The Constitution runs to some 300 pages and contains over 400 articles. It will replace, once adopted, most of the existing EU treaties.
The first part defines the European Union and its values and institutions. The second part incorporates the Charter on fundamental rights. The third part describes the policy and actions of the European Union and the last part contains the final clauses, including the procedures for approval and a possible revision of the Constitution.
It introduces some big changes. The EU will get a permanent chair of the European Council to drive the EU forward, and a new EU foreign minister.
The new voting system will be based on a double majority of both member states and population.
The number of Commissioners will be reduced to two thirds of the number of member states from 2014.
The European Parliament's powers have been greatly strengthened so that the areas where it can co-legislate with member states have almost doubled.
And, for the first time, there is an exit clause so that a member state can leave the Union if it wants and a solidarity clause committing member states to help when another in the bloc is under terrorist attack.
From Laeken to Rome
The Constitution project was born among EU leaders at the Laeken summit in December 2001.
Acknowledging that previous procedures which resulted in long arduous summits with negotiations into the early morning was no longer appropriate, they decided instead to call a Convention to draft a new Constitution.
The Convention was tasked to bring the EU to its citizens and make the European Union work with 28 or more states - chaired by former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, it met for the first time in February 2002.
Over 16 months, with clever political manoeuvres and by disciplined use of the so-called consensus method, the elderly politician managed to draft most of the text, which is to be signed today.
In July 2003, Mr Giscard took the text from its birthplace in Brussels and brought it to Rome for a symbolic hand-over to the Italian Presidency.
An Intergovernmental Conference was then launched in October last year and by June this year, leaders managed to agree a text.
Pan European campaigns
However, the final - and perhaps most difficult part - still remains: ratification.
The text cannot come into place until all 25 member states have ratified it by referendum or via their national parliaments.
So far, 11 member states have committed themselves to holding a referendum - with Spain set to be the first in February next year.
The debates - both for and against the Constitution - are likely to be pan-European for a change. Earlier referenda on EU treaties, fought in Denmark, Ireland and elsewhere, were mainly national events.
On a different front, a battle is also heating up - on Christianity.
Several centre-right politicians are agitating for a reference to Europe's Christian heritage to be made in the national statutes ratifying the Constitution.
In the case of a no-vote?
What happens if one country votes no to the European Constitution - the answer is political.
There is much speculation over whether a no vote in a small country would be allowed to sink the whole ship.
However, a no vote in a larger country or in several countries would be difficult to overcome and could send politicians back to the drawing board.
In any case, Europe is entering a new two-year phase today of national ratification - the Constitution will enter into force on 1 November 2006, provided it has been ratified in all 25 member states.
If this is not the case, a declaration attached to the treaty says that "the matter will be referred to the European Council".
Leaders Sign EU's First Constitution
Fri Oct 29, 3:00 PM ET
By ROBERT WIELAARD, Associated Press Writer
ROME - European Union leaders on Friday signed the EU's first constitution, an ambitious charter that aims to raise the union's profile on the world stage. But they grappled with a leadership crisis over the nominee for justice minister, who called homosexuality a sin and said women belong at home.
The fruit of 28 months of acrimonious debate between EU governments, the treaty must be approved by the national parliaments of the 25 EU nations. At least nine EU nations plan to put it to a referendum starting with Spain on Feb. 20. A single "no" will stop the constitution in its tracks.
The leaders signed the constitution at the spectacular Campidoglio, a Michelangelo-designed complex of Renaissance buildings on Rome's Capitoline Hill, along with the leaders of Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia — four EU candidates.
The signing was overshadowed by the furor over the conservative nominee for EU justice commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione. In his confirmation hearings before the European Parliament, Buttiglione said homosexuality is a sin and women are better off married and at home.
The 25-member EU Commission runs the day to day business of the European Union and serves for five years; each EU nation selects one commissioner. Buttiglione was the choice of Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
The next commission is supposed to take office Monday, but on Wednesday, Jose Manuel Barroso, the next commission president, withdrew his team from an approval vote in the parliament, realizing he faced an unprecedented rejection because of strong opposition to Buttiglione.
Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, asked for more time to resolve the Buttiglione nomination. The outgoing commission, headed by Italian Romano Prodi, will stay in office as long as necessary.
If Buttiglione goes, others will follow, exacerbating the crisis and paralyzing any work in the commission. EU lawmakers have also expressed opposition to Laszlo Kovacs, Hungary's former foreign minister and the incoming energy commissioner; Latvia's Ingrida Udre, a Green and the next fiscal affairs commissioner; and Liberal Neelie Kroes, the Dutch businesswoman nominated to be competition commissioner.
The EU constitution has a long charter of fundamental rights and foresees simpler voting rules to end decision gridlock in a club that grew to 25 members this year and plans to absorb half a dozen more in the years ahead.
It includes new powers for the European Parliament and ends national vetoes in 45 new policy areas — including judicial and police cooperation, education and economic policy but not in foreign and defense policy, social security, taxation or cultural matters.
The constitution was signed in the Sala degli Orazi e Curiazi in a Renaissance palazzo where in 1957 six nations — Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — signed the union's founding treaty.
"Never in history have we seen an example of nations voluntarily deciding to exercise their sovereign powers jointly in the exclusive interests of their peoples, thus overcoming age-old impulses of rivalry and distrust," Berlusconi, the ceremony's host said.
Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch leader whose nation holds the EU presidency, said economic and political integration has turned Europe into a realm of peace and cooperation that is the envy of nations worldwide.
"We have seen former dictatorships turn into democracies and witnessed the reunification of Europe," he said.
The EU constitution, which includes a charter of fundamental rights, gives the continent "greater capacity for making Europe more secure, more prosperous, more just," he said.
Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe (349 page pdf file)
Declarations to be annexed to the Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference and the Final Act (121 page pdf file)
Protocols and Annexes I and II annexed to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (382 page pdf file)
Europa - The European Union On-Line
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