The new EU treaty is intended to make the enlarged European Union more efficient and give it a stronger voice on the world stage. It replaces the failed constitution rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands two years ago but does include many of the main elements of the constitution.
The existing Charter of Fundamental Rights will be legally binding everywhere except Britain, which gained an exemption. There will be a powerful new foreign policy chief – combining crisis management and control of the European Commission’s large aid budget – but Britain objected to the title “EU Foreign Minister.”
The main obstacle to reaching a deal was Poland’s demand to keep its voting power at the same level as countries with much larger populations. The new voting system – known as a “double majority” – will now be phased in starting in 2014 and will be fully implemented three years later.
Under this system, a 55% majority of EU countries will be required to pass a decision and they have to have at least 65% of the bloc’s population. It effectively means Poland has forced a delay of the new procedures until 2017. Another compromise, Britain won the right to select which justice and home affairs issues it will choose to open up to EU coordination.
In addition, EU leaders will choose a full-time president of the European Council who will serve for a two and a half year renewable term instead of the current six-month rotating presidency. The European Council is the regular gathering of prime ministers and presidents.
Cut from the new treaty are symbols such as a flag and a European hymn which were part of the constitution. EU officials hope the treaty will be ratified by each of the member states by mid-2009.