A new chapter in European history is being heralded with the signing of the new EU constitution – the treaty meant to make the union work more smoothly.
European Union leaders gathered in the Italian capital, Rome, for a lavish ceremony. This is where it all began almost 50-years ago with the signing of the first Treaty of Rome, the agreement which gave birth to the European project. The lavish pageant was staged on the Capitoline Hill in the same Renaissance hall where the EU’s six founding nations signed the original Treaty of Rome in March 1957, launching the most successful enterprise in European unification. But this celebration of unity was marred by uncertainty over its ratification and turmoil over the stalled European Commission. The leaders said they would use private talks after the signature to discuss a standoff with the European Parliament that has blocked the entry into office of a new EU executive. The new constitution is designed to streamline Europe’s decision making process and change the voting system to give more weight to bigger states. But there’s still a long way to go. The agreement needs to be ratified by every member state before it can become law, and with polls suggesting seven out of ten Europeans feel they know nothing or very little about it, the big job of convincing the public remains to be done. The British Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, announced that Britain will likely hold a referendum in early 2006. France, Portugal and Spain have already said they will vote next year.