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Treaty of Nice entered into force

Treaty of Nice entered into force

The treaty on the future functions of EU institutions, negotiated at the European Council of Nice more than two years ago, entered into force on February 1. It brings with it significant changes for the Commission, the Parliament and the European Council intended to prepare these institutions for enlargement.

The purpose of the Treaty of Nice is to ensure that the European Union will continue to be capable of functioning normally when it has 25 members. It will constitute the basis for EU business until such time as an EU constitution can be completed. A draft constitution is currently being drawn up in the Convention on the Future of Europe headed by former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. When this process has been completed the draft text is to be discussed in an EU Intergovernmental Conference that will convene for about a year.

The Treaty of Nice brings significant changes for all three EU institutions. The following is an overview of the most important of these changes:

European Commission to have one commissioner per country

Given that all ten of the countries who will be joining the EU next year will be entitled to have one commissioner each there was a need to prevent the Commission from becoming too large. The five "big" countries among the old members (including Germany), who have thus far had two commissioners, agreed to give up one of them. The Commission will consist of 25 members instead of the current 20. This arrangement will go into effect on November 1, 2004, six months after formal enlargement on May 1.

European Parliament to have 732 members

Enlargement will increase the number of seats in the European Parliament from a current 626 to 732. This and a partial reduction in the number of seats allotted to the older member states will create room for parliamentary representatives from the ten acceding countries. This reduction will not affect Germany, which will continue to have 99 representatives in the EP. This adjustment in size will take place in connection with the next European Parliament election, scheduled to take place in June 2004.

Council to expand use of majority decision-making

A number of things will change in the Council, the institution in which the governments of the individual member states are represented and have voting rights based on population size. The unanimity requirement in decision-making is to be lifted in a number of areas (e.g. in electing the Commission President and in industrial policy). Two conditions will need to be fulfilled in connection with majority decisions. On the one hand, it will be necessary to have at least 72.27 percent of the votes in the Council ("qualified majority") and, on the other, the decision will have to be supported by a majority of the member states (i.e. at least 13). This is intended to guarantee that smaller countries cannot be outvoted by a few larger ones. There is a third condition for majority decisions that is optional. If a country feels it is not being given due consideration in its reservations with regard to a decision it can demand that the "qualified majority" of votes in the Council also represent a majority of the European population, i.e. a majority of at least 62 percent.

Stronger cooperation will be possible

If at least eight member states agree to cooperate more closely in a given policy area and if these countries wish to move ahead with regard to integration, they will be allowed to do this without having to wait for less willing members. This option will not be available in the defense policy area.

Summits to be held in Brussels

As of May 2004 all regularly scheduled EU summits are to be held in Brussels. At present they are often held in the country that has the EU Presidency, resulting in additional logistical and financial requirements which are to be avoided in the future.

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