The Treaty of Nice
Intergovernmental Conference faced the main challenge of setting the bases
of an Union enlarged towards the East. Besides the twelve countries (Cyprus,
Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Eslovenia, in the first wave,
and Bulgaria, Letonia, Latvia, Malta, Rumania and Slovakia, in the
second phase) that had already started negotiations, Turkey should be
added. The application of this euroasiatic and Muslim country was officially
admitted in the Helsinki
held in december 1999, although negotiations were put off until
Ankara's government complied with the
criteria, regarding respect of human rights and protection of minorities.
Evidently, the Kurd problem was in EU negotiators' mind.
Council was to be held in a not quite optimistic atmosphere and with this
To prevent the future 27 or 28 members
Union to get blocked, it was urgent to reduce dramatically the number of
decisions taken by unanimity. The
majority system became the general rule.
As a result of the enlargement, to reduce
the number of Commission members,
To re-weight the vote of each country.
The enlargement and the necessity of taking into account the demographic
weight of the different countries, especially the Germany's, imposed this
The proclamation of the Charter of
fundamental rights of the European Union.
The proclamation of
the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU
The preceding debate made foresee serious confrontation at
the European summit:
Meanwhile Germany intended to re-weight
its vote in the
the European Union, France, despite having 59 million inhabitants
against Germany's 82 million, refused to break the power balance which the
Union has been based on from its origins.
The Netherlands, 15 million inhabitants, tried to do the same as regards 10
million inhabitants Belgium. Brussels'
government absolutely rejected to get less power than its northern neighbour.
The necessary reduction of Commissioners
implied, according to big countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom,
Italy and Spain), that the small countries would not have a regular
Commissioner in the
These countries flatly denied that alternative.
aspired to reduce
competences. It was to finish the veto culture. National governments,
represented in the
declined to lose its veto on major affairs, such as tax system, immigration,
cohesion, social security...
The Treaty of Nice
Observers have, almost unanimously, affirmed
that national interest outweighed Europe's during the arduous debate that took
place at the Nice
Council. However, after a lot of give and take, Union's tradition held on:
an agreement was reached. For the optimists, it is the only realistic way of
go on progressing. For the pessimists, the European momentum is fading out.
Whatever it may be, these are the main
points of the
Treaty of Nice that ammends the previous treaties:
The bitter debate among big and small
countries for the re-weighting of vote in the
represented in the Iberian context by the struggle between Portugal and
Spain, rose the greater tensions. Finally, a new re-weighting of vote for
the current and the future member States was reached. This new distribution
of power will come into force on 1 January 2005 in the case of current
members. The new system gives 29 votes to the Four Big Countries (Germany,
France, United Kingdom and Italy). In spite of the demographic imbalance,
parity between France and Germany is maintained. Spain got 27 votes, the
same as Poland when joining the Union. The rest of the countries got
progressively less votes up to Malta, whose weight will be three votes in
A complicate system of majorities and
minorities was set up. It provides three different ways to block any
decision of the
When the Union have 27 members, the
whole number of votes of the Council will be 345. The threshold for the
qualified majority is set at 255 and a minority of 88 votes would veto any
resolution. That means that three big and one small countries will be
always able to impede any decision.
A simple majority of member States
opposition will always prevent a decision from being passed by a
Finally, a demographic verification clause was
adopted to give more power to more populated Germany. To get a
majority is necessary that a proposal be
endorsed at least by 62% of the Union's population. It means that Germany
needs the support of two big nations to veto whatever decision. The
rest of the big countries need the participation of all the four
big to exercise the veto.
Parliament will consist of 732 seats, instead of current 626. Germany
will elect 99 MPs, the rest of the big countries 72, Spain and Poland
50. Seats in the
have been used to make up for disparities in the re-weighting of votes in
In 2005, countries that currently have two commissioners
(Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Europe) will have one. When the
Union be composed by 27 members, a definitive number of commissioners will
be unanimously decided. The number will be inferior to 27 and will be set up
a a fair system of rotation that balance the composition of the
taking into account the different demographic weight of the countries and
the diverse geographic areas of our continent. On this subject, one of the
main battlefields between big and small countries, a
definitive solution was not reached, although the features of a future
agreement were outlined.
Competences of the
of the European Commission were enhanced. Henceforth, he will be elected
qualified majority and his or her appointment will be ratified by the
The subjects on a decision by
majority can be adopted increase (about forty, most of them technical
ones). However, governments' veto is maintained in subjects that affected
them in a high degree, such as cohesion (Spain) , tax system (Britain),
asylum and immigration (Germany) or free trade in cultural an audiovisual
The possibility of a reinforced
cooperation among member States in fields related to further integration was
set up. Reinforced cooperation must meet some conditions:
At least, eight countries must
participate to start this sort of closer cooperation.
The following aspects are excluded of
this possibility: Community policies, affairs related to
and anything else that affected the common market, defence and weapon
These are the main agreements reached in the Nice
Council. At Germany's request, the member States decided to summon a new
conference in 2004, where they would try to go further than what was achieved
in Nice. Very important issues, such as defining Union and member States'
competences, deciding the legal status of the
Charter of fundamental
rights of the European Union proclaimed in Nice, the role of national
Parliaments in the European integration, or simplifying and clarifying the
complicated legal muddle that the Treaties has become, will be the main
objectives of this future summit.
On 26 February 2001, the European leaders, gathered again in
the Côte d'Azur capital, proceed to sign the
Treaty of Nice.
The French President, Jacques Chirac, and the incumbent
president of the EU, the Swedish prime minister, Goran Persson, insisted in
denying the claim against the alleged lack of European spirit in Nice.
Mr. Chirac and Mr. Persson considered the Treaty as sufficient and realistic.
It allows a historical step, the enlargement of the Union in 2002.
The German foreign minister, Joscka Fischer, has put a key
matter up to discussion: the need of a genuine constitutional process for
Europe. This will be the big issue for the next years.
The distance between the institutional move towards more
union and integration and public opinion has appeared again, and, in this
case, in a traditionally pro-Europe country.
Despite the major parties campaigning for the YES, Irish
people said NO in the referendum held on the Treay of Nice in June 2001.
Irish against the
Treaty of Nice
With a meagre poll, 53.87% of Irish people
turned down the Treaty of Nice. Although this result questioned the future of
the enlargement process, the Dublin government rushed to pledge a new
negotiation and a second referendum that could lead to some opting-out
clauses for Ireland.
The successful campaing of Greens, ONGs and
other leftish groups against the Treaty, has evidenced again a growing
scepticism of European citizenships. A mistrust that comes from the
democratic deficit afflicting the European Union.