Treaty or Constitution? The Problems Facing Europe

The dream was for a constitution. But now, the document being considered by the European Union is little more than a glorified treaty. In order to get everyone on board, large chunks of the original draft constitution have been eliminated.

Leaders from the 27 European Union members will be gathering in Brussels at the end of next week. It will be the high-point of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's six-month stint as EU president -- if she can revive progress towards a new EU treaty.

The treaty, of course, was originally supposed to be a European Constitution. But in spring, 2005, both France and the Netherlands voted against adoption of the document in referenda, thereby sending the EU into a deep existential crisis.

Having taken over the rotating EU presidency in January, Merkel made the revival of the constitution her first priority. But given the lack of enthusiasm in Europe for a far-reaching document that makes Europe sound more like a super state, the resulting treaty will be far less abitious. Here are some of the main issues facing the EU when it meets next week:

Treaty instead of Constitution: The term "constitution" has been thrown overboard. Great Britain and the Netherlands are skeptical of anything that looks like a European "super state." Indeed, since France and Holland rejected the original draft constitution in spring, 2005, the idea of having a Europe-wide constitution has died a slow death. The treaty is necessary to regulate the interactions among the 27-member states of an expanded European Union. In particular need of adjustment is the way the body makes decisions. Currently, most decisions are made by consensus, but a new voting system seeks to provide for rulings made by double majority -- meaning that 55 percent of member-states representing 65 percent of the EU population must agree.

No Symbols: The blue EU flag with the 12 gold stars will no longer be mentioned as the European Union flag. The bloc will also jettison the idea of an anthem, meaning Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" will likewise go unmentioned in the new document. Both symbols will continue to be used however.

No EU Foreign Minister: Britain, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic are all against a European Union foreign minister. The original draft constitution had mentioned the creation of such a post. Instead, the bloc will continue to make do with the position of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, a post which Javier Solana currently fills.

Human Rights: The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was to be one of the central parts of the European constitution. But at British insistence, the Charter has been removed to make the resulting document look even less like a constitution. In the draft treaty, the Charter, proclaimed in 2000, will only be mentioned briefly.

Voting: One of the most controversial parts of the new document is that of how the European Union will make decisions in the future. The intention of the draft constitution was to move away from the current practice of making all major decisions by consensus, introducing instead a system of qualified majority. Such a change would speed up decision-making, particularly in the areas of police cooperation and immigration questions. Britain, however, is against such a change, and may be granted exceptions.

Majority Rules: The highest hurdle remains Poland's skepticism of the new double-majority voting plan. Even though the system gives Poland relatively generous voting rights -- 27 votes compared to Germany's 29 despite having just 38 million citizens to Germany's 82 million -- it would rather see votes calculated based on a country's inhabitants in relation to its surface area, the so-called "square root system." Prime Minister Kaczynski has even said it is a system "worth dying for."

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