Today the European Commission adopted its position paper on the draft European Constitution. In its view the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) starting on 4th October should not reopen the compromise reached at the Convention. The IGC needs to improve and clarify a limited number of areas and complete unfinished work. It should avoid setting in stone the policy provisions of the Constitution. Also, an effective, credible European Commission must include a full member from each country. A large Commission will need to streamline its internal organisation accordingly.
The Commission welcomes the draft Constitutional text as an excellent basis for the work of the IGC. President Romano Prodi said: “The Convention has taken us a long way along the road to a Constitution. Now, the Intergovernmental Conference has the political responsibility to make some improvements to the Convention's text so that Europe can work effectively and democratically”.
Define a more flexible way to revise the policy part of the Constitution
The legitimacy of the European Union in the eyes of its citizens depends on effective policy implementation. Part III of the draft Constitution contains the goals and instruments for the Union’s policies. Many articles date back to the 1957 Treaty of Rome; others have become lengthy and complicated through various amendments made over time.
Under the proposed system, any revision of the Constitution’s 465 articles and various protocols would need unanimous agreement by all governments and subsequent ratification in all Member States. Moreover, the IGC will most likely lack the time to update and simplify part III. Setting all policy provisions in stone would impair the EU’s capacity to devise the best policies and react to changing circumstances.
The European Council should therefore be able to amend part III of the Constitution by a 5/6 majority, following the European Parliament’s approval and the Commission’s favourable opinion. Amendments should be prepared by a Convention with representatives of national parliaments, governments and the EU institutions. In contrast, unanimous agreement and subsequent national ratification must continue to apply to all other parts of the Constitution, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the division of powers between the EU and the Member States; the institutions; and fundamental principles and objectives.
At least one policy area that the IGC should tackle right away is economic governance, which is vital for growth. Economic policies in the euro-zone should be coordinated more closely.
Creative solutions for more majority voting
Unanimity in the Council still applies for a large number of decisions. The Commission recognises that there is no consensus for a sweeping extension of majority voting. However, the IGC should undertake a targeted, detailed analysis of certain articles. In some cases, a more precise description of the remit of EU actions could reassure those concerned about dropping the national veto. Commissioner António Vitorino said: “A national right of veto will spell paralysis for the enlarged Union. National horse-trading never brings good European decisions. Majority voting is particularly important for the next round of budgetary negotiations”.
Establish an effective and legitimate Commission
The Convention proposes a large Commission structured in two tiers: an inner core of fifteen “European” Commissioners with voting rights, plus Commissioners from the other countries in an outer circle. A system entailing such “first-class” and “second-class” Commissioners would destroy the institution’s collegial nature. The result would be a loss of legitimacy and reduced effectiveness for the EU as a whole.
The IGC should change this proposal without opening a debate on other institutional issues. The Commission’s make-up should treat all Member States equally by including a member from each country with the same rights and obligations. Decision-making in the Commission should be devolved to groups of Commissioners put in charge of certain areas. The full college would decide issues of strategic and political importance only. This model builds on the Commission’s current practice of decentralised decision-making.
Without reopening the institutional debate, the IGC should clarify the draft Constitution where the implications for the institutions are unclear. Care must be taken to ensure that the various Council presidencies and the European Council president do not join up to form an alternative executive. That would mean a waste of resources, institutional rivalry and inefficiency.
Commissioner Michel Barnier concluded: “The Convention has succeeded where the EU has fallen short before. The Convention approach was a crucial and lasting innovation. A short and decisive Intergovernmental Conference needs to make the remaining improvements and clarifications”.