EU Member States adopted the Reform Treaty
The EU Heads of State or Government, meeting in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October, adopted the EU Reform Treaty. The Reform Treaty strengthens in a number of ways the Unionís principles on democracy, transparency and good governance. The Treaty simplifies and clarifies some of the Unionís complex procedures and basic characteristics. The roles, duties and composition of institutions will be changed to meet the challenges posed by the enlarged Union. Finland welcomes this development and hopes that all Member States will ratify the Treaty by the year 2009.
With the new Treaty, the Union will have single legal personality and the possibility to accede, for example, to international conventions. Finland considers this an important reform. In practice, the new Union will replace the current European Community and the European Union by simplifying the Unionís basic structure.
The division of competences between the Union and its Member States will be clarified. The underlying principle in the division of competences is that the EU will act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States and that competences not conferred upon the Union will remain with the Member States. This principle of conferral will be specified in the Reform Treaty. There will be relatively few contentual changes to the delimitation of competence. The most significant changes will concern foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs.
Judicial cooperation in criminal matters and police cooperation, which currently fall under the third pillar, in other words under intergovernmental cooperation, will come within the scope of the Unionís overall legal and judicial framework. They will become subject to the Union's general decision making procedures and provisions. Institutions may also exercise their competence in these sectors. Finland has considered this one of the most essential reforms of the new Treaty.
The Unionís legislative procedures will be simplified and the ordinary legislative procedure, which corresponds with the current co-decision procedure, will become the main rule. Laws will be passed on a proposal from the European Commission, and the Council, representing the Member Statesí Governments, and the European Parliament will be equal legislators. This means that the role of the European Parliament as a Union legislator will be strengthened. As a rule, the Council is to adopt its decisions by qualified majority voting. The reform will considerably clarify the Union's decision making.
One of Finlandís main objectives in the reform of the Treaties has been to improve the effectiveness of the Unionís decision making. This will be achieved with the Reform Treaty as the number of decisions to be adopted by qualified majority at the Council will increase significantly. The unanimity requirement will remain in certain areas, such as taxation.
The conversion of the Unionís Charter of Fundamental Rights into a legally binding document is the most important reform with regard to the legal protection of citizens. In Finlandís opinion this is an essential reform. The Charter of Fundamental Rights contains the fundamental rights which the EC Court of Justice has recognised in its legal practice, and the Charter will be legally binding to the Union institutions and Member Statesí authorities when they enforce European Union law. In practice, Union citizens may in any court invoke the Charter of Fundamental Rights when the matter in hand has a connection to Union legislation. An opt-out arrangement was agreed for the United Kingdom and Poland. According to this arrangement, the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights do not extend to the activities of their national authorities. The Reform Treaty will fulfil one of Finlandís long-term objectives Ė the EUís accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
With the new Treaty, the meeting of EU Heads of State or Government, the European Council, which makes decisions on the Union's broad policy guidelines, will be transformed into an official Union institution. The European Council will have a permanent President elected for a term of two and a half years.
The most important reform with regard to the Council is the move to the system of dual majority which will contribute to the clarity and effectiveness of decision making. When the Council makes decisions in areas subject to qualified majority decision making, a qualified majority will be defined as at least 55 % of the Member States comprising at least 65 % of the population of the Union. The relative weight of the Member States comparable to Finland is size will remain unchanged. The introduction of new voting rules will be postponed until 2014, after which date a member of the Council has the right to request that the current voting rules be applied till spring 2017.
The Presidency of the Council will, for the present, remain unchanged and each Member State will continue to hold the rotating Presidency for a six-month period at a time.
The powers of the European Parliament will increase, especially as a legislator, but also in the exercise of budgetary power. The total number of seats in the European Parliament will be 750 plus the President. Each Member State will have at least six seats but no more than 96 seats. The seats will be divided among the Member States proportionally according to population size based on degressive proportionality. This means that, according to population size, bigger Member States will receive fewer seats than smaller Member States. Decisions on the composition of the European Parliament will in the future be made at the European Council and not in an Intergovernmental Conference.
From now on, Finland will have 13 seats in the Parliament in place of the current 14 seats, in line with the solution adopted at the Treaty of Nice in 2000. The total number of seats will decrease due to adopted transitional provisions for 2004-2009 brought about by enlargement.
With effect from 2014, the composition of the European Commission will be reduced in size and consist of a number of members corresponding to two-thirds of the number of Member States. This arrangement will not weaken the position of small Member States since the Reform Treaty stipulates that the members of the Commission will be selected according to a system of equal rotation among Member States regardless of their size.
The most important new institution, or personal position, will be that of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who will bear responsibility for the Unionís external relations and representation in international forums. The High Representative will serve at the Commission and at the Council as they both have a role in the conduct of the Unionís external relations. The aim of the reform is, in line with Finlandís aspirations, to improve consistency and enhance the Unionís external actions.
As regards national Parliaments, the most important reform relates to their duty to ensure compliance with the subsidiarity principle. According to the subsidiarity principle, decisions must be made at the right level and as close to the citizen as possible. When national Parliaments oppose a legislative proposal by a simple majority, the Commission must re-examine the matter. If the Commission decides to maintain the proposal in its original form, it must provide justification for its decision. If 55% of the Member States or a simple majority in the European Parliament consider that the proposal does not respect the subsidiarity principle, the proposal will be rejected. In Finland, Parliament is closely involved in national-level decision making on EU affairs and therefore the aforementioned amendment is mainly considered supplementary to the existing procedures based on the Finnish Constitution.
There has been an aspiration to improve the prerequisites for participatory democracy. As a new means of increasing the influence of citizens, the Reform Treaty introduces a citizensí initiative. Such an initiative will have to be signed by at least one million citizens who are nationals of various Member States.
The Reform Treaty emphasises the importance of transparent decision making and good governance, in line with Finlandís long-term objectives, by extending the obligation of Union institutions and agencies to provide information on their activities and to provide access to the information. The transparency of legislative work will be increased at the Council. The sessions of the Council, convening as a legislative body, will be open.
The language versions of the Reform Treaty will be revised after political agreement on its contents has been reached in Lisbon. The Treaty is to be signed in December 2007 after which it must be ratified in all Member States in accordance with their own constitutional provisions. Some Member States will hold a referendum on the Reform Treaty. The Reform Treaty will enter into force after having been ratified by all Member States.
Further information: Helena Tuuri, State Under-Secretary for EU Affairs, tel. +358 9 1602 2182 and Pšivi Leino-Sandberg, Counsellor, tel. +358 9 1602 2190, Government Secretariat for EU Affairs