Forty-seven years ago, with a lot fewer people represented, the room where the signing took place was just as busy. An impressive list of treaties followed the initiative in 1957 to build a better future. A new treaty accompanied each significant change and expansion for the European community.
The Constitution was designed to simplify the existing treaties of the European Union and adapt them to the needs of an enlarged bloc — which now has more than 450 million citizens.
The constitution treaty includes democratic reforms aimed at boosting public confidence in the EU’s institutions. One of its innovations is the right of the public to propose directly legislation on a specific subject; It would take one million citizens’ signatures on a petition.
For the sake of manageability, the European Commission will have representatives from two thirds of the member states, on a rotational basis. This reform is to be introduced in 2014, others well before that.
The constitution doubles the number of policy areas in which the European Parliament has decisional powers equal to the European Council. The EU budget is among the most important of these areas.
There is provision for a long-term president of the European Council of leaders, to serve for a two-and-a-half year mandate, renewable once. This is the so-called European President.
Another novelty is the creation of a single foreign minister to represent the whole bloc on the international stage, appointed for a five-year term, to sit with the Commission but answerable to the member states.
To pass a policy decision in the Council of Ministers will need the support of 55% of the countries representing 65% of the EU population. This gives more voting power to countries with more people. Currently, smaller states have disproportionate weight.
The use of qualified majority voting will apply to more areas, cutting back on the use of national vetoes. One notable area in which this will apply is in asylum and immigration policy.
Structured co-operation on defence matters is foreseen, including a mutual solidarity clause. In the case of a terrorist attack for example, this could mobilise all the member states to help the one.