GP360 European Union Project

Introduction: EU for Americans

The Constitution

The combined body of EU law is referred to as the
acquis communitaire. The actual laws sit in a series of treaties passed
over the last four-plus decades. These treaties are negotiated outside
of the formal structure of the EU in Inter-Governmental Conferences
(IGC) and then approved by the process of each member country. All
countries must approve a treaty for it to go into effect; each has a
veto effectively.

Determining what the law actually is on any
particular issue requires research in numerous overlapping treaties.
There is no code of law. Furthermore, the negotiation of treaty in the
IGC's is generally a backroom affair and not open to public view or
participation. This is also true of much of the EU's functioning,
particularly in the Council, where most decisions are made. Meetings
are closed and there are no public minutes of the meetings, just press
releases.

This so-called democracy deficit and the confusion
of having the law based on overlapping treaties led to calls for an
open constitutional convention, to create a single body of law with
public participation. While the process of the convention still left
much to be desired, it was a step better than the old treaty
negotiations, and the draft treaty was presented in the middle of 2003,
only to be subjected to another IGC to modify it and hopefully reach
agreement so it could be adopted. Those negotiations fell apart last
December.

The key stumbling block was a change in the voting
formula for the Council of Ministers. While all EU institutions use a
quasi-proportional voting formula, based on population, all of them
also give somewhat of a preference to smaller countries. The new
formula would have brought voting closer to a population proportional
system, but this also gives more power to the large states. One of the
opposing countries was Spain, but the recent change of government there
may unblock this stalemate.

The goal is to have the constitution approved by
national governments before the European Parliament elections in June.
Some countries will hold plebiscites on the constitution, others will
approve via their own parliament. There is controversy on some of the
countries which do not plan to hold referendums as to whether such a
decision should be made by the government.

The new constitution could potentially make the EU a
more cohesive entity in foreign relations, and would create stronger
leadership positions in the existing institutions and streamline
decision-making.

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