On 29 October 2004, the Heads of State or Government and the Foreign Ministers of the 25 Member States of the European Union and its three candidate countries (Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey) met in Rome to sign the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe.
Despite inevitable compromises, the European Constitution is far more than a meeting at the lowest common denominator. It achieves a fair balance of interests between large and small, old and new Member States. For this reason, the solutions reached in the Constitutional Treaty should be retained, regardless of how the ratification process subsequently unfolds.
In order to enter into force, the Constitutional Treaty must be ratified by all signatory States in a line with the procedures laid down in their respective constitutions. Ratification may be a parliamentary procedure and/or a matter of referendum. To date, 15 states have ratified the Constitutional Treaty (Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Austria, Germany, Latvia, Cyprus, Malta, Luxembourg, Belgium and Estonia). Finland intends to ratify the Treaty within the term of its Presidency. The people of France and the Netherlands have rejected the Treaty. The remaining Member States (Poland, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and the United Kingdom) have postponed the ratification process.
Analysis of the referenda in France and the Netherlands showed that the decisive reasons for the rejection were not the changes to applicable law in the Treaty, but domestic policy issues and general European policy concerns.
On 16/17 June 2005 the European Council agreed that the ratification process would go ahead, albeit at a pace suited to the needs of the individual Member States. The delay occasioned by the "no" votes in France and the Netherlands was seen as an opportunity for reflection. Member States were encouraged to use the time to engage in intensive debate on the issue of European integration, in which citizens, civil society, social partners, national parliaments and political parties might all participate.
On 15/16 June 2006 the European Council commissioned the German Presidency to present a report containing an assessment of the state of discussion with regard to the Constitutional Treaty in the first half of 2007. This is to serve as a basis for measures to be taken under the French Presidency in the second half of 2008 at the latest.
The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was largely elaborated by the Convention on the Future of Europe, also known as the European Convention. Representatives of national parliaments and governments as well as members of the European Parliament and the Commission publicly discussed the central issues of European integration with the participation of civil society. All Convention documents were made available on the Internet at the same time as they were distributed to Convention members. Citizens could keep abreast of developments and take part in the debate via the Internet.
The strong participation of parliamentary representatives in the Convention was particularly significant. They made up two thirds of the body which eventually drew up the Draft Constitution.
The Convention's mission was to make the European Union fit for the future. The Draft Convention proved to be a good and viable compromise, and was subsequently used as the basis for the agreement on the European Constitution at the final meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels on 18 June 2004.
The Union's effectiveness will be enhanced by far-reaching institutional reforms. Once the Constitution enters into force, the "double majority" will apply to Council decisions. According to the new system, Council decisions will be adopted if 55 per cent of states representing at least 65 per cent of the EU population are in favour. Unlike the complicated vote-weighting system of Nice with its high decision-making thresholds, the double majority facilitates the formation of constructive majorities and helps prevent blocking minorities. The scope of application for the qualified majority will be extended. A full-time President of the European Council will ensure the continuity of Union activity. The rotating Presidency of the Council of Ministers will retain its 18-month, three-state structure.
The Common Foreign and Security Policy will be extended. At the core of the Union's new power to shape foreign policy is the new post of Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, who also chairs the Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs and acts as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. The post absorbs three previous positions – that of the High Representative for the CFSP, the External Relations Commissioner and the Council Chairman. The Minister will be assisted by the European External Action Service, comprising officials from the Commission, the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers and seconded diplomats from the Member States. Decisions on the CFSP will continue to be adopted largely on a unanimous basis.
Particular progress has been made in the area of justice and home affairs. Measures include introducing joint protection of external borders, facilitating cross-border police cooperation (strengthening Europol) and improving transnational law enforcement. In this respect, Eurojust is to be developed into a coordination centre for national public prosecution offices, which is to eventually form the nucleus of a European Public Prosecutor's Office.
The Constitution also reinforces democracy and the protection of fundamental rights. It expands the role of the European Parliament, ensures the greater direct involvement of national parliaments in the European legislative process and incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Treaty. The European Parliament is vested with legislative and budgetary functions equal to those of the Council. The Commission President is to be elected by the European Parliament in accordance with the Constitution, thus ensuring the democratic legitimacy of the person in question.
Finally, the Constitution makes the Union more transparent and more comprehensible. It lends the Union a single legal personality, establishes clear limits between the competences of the Union and the Member States, as has been called for by Germany in particular for some time, simplifies procedures and, last but not least, improves the categorization of the EU's legal instruments which are defined more clearly. By involving the national parliaments directly in the European legislative process and granting them an individual right of action in the event of a dispute, the subsidiarity principle can be politically controlled for the first time.
The golden stars on a blue background will continue to be the official flag of the Union.
The euro, already the official currency in 12 EU Member States, is designated the official currency of the Union.
The music to the ‘Ode to Joy’ from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, composed in 1823 in Vienna, is the official anthem of the Union. The Member States continue to have their own national anthem.
‘United in diversity’ is the motto or guiding principle of the Union.
"Europe day" is celebrated on 9 May every year in memory of the historic speech by Robert Schuman, the former Foreign Minister of France, in which he presented his vision of a united Europe.