Institutional changes to come will usher in visible leadership and a bit more democracy

It always helps to know the terrain before studying a map. In this case, the constitution is easier comprehended by knowing what came before, for it is less a new document than a condensation of provisions in the unwieldy set of existing treaties. Institutional arrangements, for example, do not change greatly, while there are no breathtaking initiatives; no EU army or EU-wide tax, for example. Still, the reduced jargon, like that around the «Three Pillars,» makes it more comprehensible to Europeans (and others). The document has four main sections. Part I (curiously, unnamed) sets out basic principles, objectives, rights, competencies, and the like. Part II is the Charter of Fundamental Rights, for European citizens vis-a-vis the Union. Part III (the longest part) covers the Policies and Functioning of the Union (internal market, security and justice, external actions, institutions), and Part IV covers General and Final Provisions, including various protocols on voting weights, etc. – and is followed by two pages of corrigenda. Changes, innovations Here are some key changes from current practices: – Elected presidency. The European Commission president will be elected by the European Parliament, not chosen by governments, as is the case now. The job’s profile will likely be higher and arguably better legitimized. – Enhanced European Parliament role. It gets more co-decision powers in legislation along with the Council of Ministers, especially including the budget – and agricultural spending, the biggest part. But it still cannot initiate legislation; that remains the Commission’s job. – National parliamentary role. For the first time, national parliaments get a direct role in EU policymaking. National MPs can scrutinize EU laws and object if these overstep EU prerogative. – Changed Council of Ministers presidency. The current six-month rotation will be scrapped. In its place will be a trio of countries on an 18-month rotation to give more continuity. And the European Council (heads of government) will be headed by a chair chosen by the members, for two-and-a-half years, renewable once, giving more focus and continuity. – A new «Union Minister for Foreign Affairs» will be created, by merging the two current roles of (a) Commissioner for external affairs and (b) High Representative (currently Javier Solana). This will give the EU a sharper focal point in foreign issues, although s/he will still serve at the behest of the governments in the Council. – More qualified majority voting (QMV). More policy areas (by some counts, 44) will be made subject to QMV in the Council of Ministers, requiring (in a formula to take effect in 2009) a double majority of 55 percent of member states representing 65 percent of citizens. This means the EU can make laws in more policy areas. However, crucial areas like defense, tax and social security remain national-based, where the EU can only act if all members agree. – A Charter of Fundamental Rights protects the rights of citizens at EU level. Previously, only individual member states (but not the EU) were parties to the European Convention on Human Rights. Brussels, as well as national capitals, now has responsibility in protecting these. – The EU takes a more explicit legal personality. This was left assumed or overlapped before, and may make it easier for the EU to negotiate on behalf of its membership in certain issue-areas. – Common defense. A (vague) statement requires states to come to the defense of another in case of attack. But it is highly circumscribed and does not suggest a common defense policy anytime soon. – Justice and Home Affairs issues. These, notably immigration, long exclusively a matter for the states individually, will be handled increasingly by the European Commission or by the Council via majority vote. This enhances the Commission’s stated role as guardian of the European interest. – A smaller Commission. From 2014, a rotation system means states will not longer be guaranteed a commissioner. Until then, each state will have one commissioner (until last year, the five big countries each had two). – More openness. Previously, the Council of Ministers made legislation behind closed doors. Now, meetings will be open, the Council treated more like an upper chamber of a legislature. With the enhanced Parliament role in legislation, the lawmaking process should be somewhat more transparent. – Withdrawal clause. For the first time, there is a legal way to withdraw from the EU. Doomsayers might see Britain as a conceivable first-use case of this if the constitution gets rejected in a wave of anti-EU sentiment. – Popular initiative. One million Europeans can propose EU action in certain areas; procedures, however, have to be worked out. – Aims. The EU lays out, for the first time, its actual aims. The six include promotion of peace and well-being of its peoples, maintaining freedom, security and justice and an internal market, sustainable development, social justice, cohesion and solidarity among members, and to uphold its values in the wider world. – Flexibility mechanisms. By «enhanced cooperation,» «accelerators» and the like, sub-groups of states can, in certain cases, push forth deeper cooperation than the rest. Some existed before, but they are more explicit now. The provisions thus involve wide, and in some cases innovative, change. But the proof of the pudding remains in the eating – if, that is, Europeans themselves decide to swallow the concoction rather than send it back to the kitchen. «Europe» remains an experiment in progress.

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