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Treaty of Nice

The Treaty of Nice is a treaty adopted in Nice by the European Council to amend the founding treaties of the European Union--the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty), the Treaty establishing the European Community and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (the Treaties of Rome). It came into force on February 2, 2003.

Provisions of the Treaty

The primary purpose of the Treaty of Nice was to reform the institutional structure to withstand enlargement, a task which had been supposed to be carried out at the Amsterdam Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), but the Treaty of Amsterdam had failed to address most of the issues.

The Treaty adopted by the Nice European Council was attacked by many. Germany had demanded that their greater population be reflected in a higher vote weighting in the Council; this was opposed by France, who insisted that the symbolic parity between France and Germany be maintained. One proposal made by many, which would have greatly simplified the current system, was to introduce a double majority, of both member states and population, to replace the current Qualified Majority Voting QMV system. This was rejected by France also, for similar reasons. A compromise was reached, which provided for a double majority of Member States and votes cast, and in which a Member State could optionally request verification that the countries voting in favour represented a sufficient proportion of the Union's population.

The Treaty provided for an increase after enlargement of the number of seats in the European Parliament to 732, which exceeded the cap established by the Treaty of Amsterdam.

The question of a reduction in the size of the European Commission after enlargement was resolved by a fudge -- the Treaty providing that once the number of Member States reached 25, the number of Commissioners would be reduced by the Council to below 25, but without actually specifying to what number.

The Treaty provided for the creation of subsidiary courts below the European Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance to deal with special areas of law such as patents.

The Nice Treaty provides for new rules on closer co-operation, the rules introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam being viewed as unworkable, and hence these rules have not yet been used.

In response to the failed sanctions against Austria following a coalition including Haider's party having come to power, and fears about possible future threats to the stability of the new member states to be admitted in enlargement, the Treaty of Nice for the first time adopted formal rules for the application of sanctions against a Member State.

The Treaty also contained provisions to deal with the financial consequences of the expiry of the ECSC treaty.

It was widely accepted that the Treaty of Nice has failed to deal with the basic question of wideranging institutional reform, the European Union institutions being widely viewed as overly complicated, and hence the establishment of the European Convention, leading to a new IGC in 2004, was agreed at Nice.

The Commission and the European Parliament were disappointed that the Nice IGC did not adopt many of their proposals for reform of the institutional structure or introduction of new Community powers, such as the appointment of a European Public Prosecutor. The European Parliament threatened to pass a resolution against the Treaty -- although it has no formal power of veto, the Italian Parliament threatened that it would not ratify without the European Parliament's support. However, in the end this did not come to pass and the European Parliament approved the Treaty.

Many argue that the pillar structure, which was maintained by the Treaty, is overly complicated, that the separate Treaties should be merged into one Treaty, and that the three (now two) separate legal personalities of the Communities should be merged, and that the European Community and the European Union should be merged with the European Union being endowed with legal personality. The German regions were also demanding a clearer separation of the powers of the Union from the Member States.

Nor did the Treaty of Nice deal with the question of the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Treaty -- after the opposition of the United Kingdom, that was also left for the 2004 IGC.

Ratification Process

Under the current rules for the amendment of the Treaties, the Treaties can only be amended by a new Treaty, which must be ratified by each of the Member States to enter into force. In all the EU member states the Treaty of Nice was ratified by parliamentary procedure, except in Ireland, where the Irish Supreme Court in an earlier court judgment on the Single European Act had rules that fundamental changes to European Treaties alters the Irish Constitution's recognition of sovereignty as being ultimately derived from the People required an amendment to the Irish constitution. Ireland's constitution can only be amended by a referendum of the people.

To the surprise of Europe's political classes, the voters in Ireland rejected the Nice Treaty in May 2001. The turnout itself was low, partly a result of the failure of the major Irish political parties to mount a strong campaign on the issue, presuming that the Irish electorate would of course pass the Treaty. (All previous such Treaties had been passed by big majorities.) However many Irish voters were critical of the Treaty contents, believing that it marginalised smaller states. Others questioned the impact of the Treaty on Irish neutrality. Other sections viewed the leadership of the Union as out of touch and arrogant, with the Treaty offering a perceived chance to 'shock' the European leadership into a greater willingness to listen to its critics. (A similar argument was made when Denmark initially voted down the Treaty of Maastricht.) In large measure, the Nice Treaty was lost because pro-treaty supporters simply never bothered to vote, while the 'Vote No' campaigns were effective in raising serious questions as to the value of the Treaty.

The Irish government controversially decided to have another referendum on the Treaty of Nice on Saturday, October 19, 2002. Urged on by a massive campaign by the main parties (all of which advocated a 'Yes' vote), and by television interviews by respected pro-European figures like Vaclav Havel, former President of Ireland Patrick Hillery and former Taoiseach (prime minister) Dr. Garret FitzGerald the people of Ireland voted "Yes". By then all other EU member states had ratified the Treaty. Ratification by all parties was required by the end of the year, or else the Treaty would expire.

Proponents of the Treaty claim it is a utilitarian adjustment to cumbersome EU governing mechanisms and a required streamlining of decision-making processes, necessary to facilitate enlargement of the EU into Eastern Europe. They claim that consequently is vitally important for the integration and future progress of these former communist countries. Many who are in favour of greater scope and power of the EU project, feel that it does not go far enough in fact, and that it may in any case be superseded by future treaties and agreements (such as a possible EU constitution and federal state). Proponents differ in the extent to which enlargement may proceed without it, some claiming the very future of the Union's growth - if not existence - to be at stake, while others saying that enlargement can legally proceed - albeit at a slower pace - without it.

Opponents of the Treaty claim that it is a "technocratic" rather than "democratic" treaty, which further diminishes the sovereignty of national/local parliaments, and further concentrating power into centralised and unaccountable bureaucracy - "deepening but not widening" political power. They also claim that 5 applicants may join at once under the current system, and that all others may negotiate on an individual basis - which they believe will be advantageous to the applicants. It is also claimed that the Nice Treaty will create a two-class and two-tier EU, specifically to enable an "inner-club" of powerful states (e.g. France and Germany) to effectively co-opt EU institutions for their own purposes. Opponents point out that leading pro-treaty politicians have admitted, that were referenda to be held in countries other than Ireland, it would probably be defeated there as well.

External links

A collection of links to information concerning; organisations involved with; and viewpoints expressed in the Irish Referendum campaign, can be found in The Open Directory Project.[1]