Treaty establishing Constitution for Europe: Italian perspective

In 2001 Silvio Berlusconi became a chairman of the Council of Ministers of Italy. Since that time and up to the 1st of July of the year 2003 when Italy became presiding over the EU – Belgium, Spain, Denmark and Greece were rotating in turn the EU chair. During their presidency four working programs were approved and main European priorities were highlighted, however, only Belgium presidency resulted in a new body creation that would reform the EU – the Convention. This body was chaired by the former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing together with two deputies, Giuliano Amato and Jean-Luc Dehaene as well as member-states representatives. The Convention was aimed at a new treaty elaboration that was conditioned on by objective realia – without a new treaty the existence of the EU would be hardly possible especially after a large-scale EU enlargement in the year 2004. There was a necessity to fasten decision-making process as well.

Italy also elaborated its Presidency Programme presiding over the EU for 6 months. There were 12 priorities, among them – signing of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe as well as the EU forthcoming enlargement[1]. Italian government claimed that these problems were not optional for the country. These problems were the result of a present-day reality, however, the presiding country has an option to choose which problem is the most important. Hence, presidency per se is a very important step, it is a test of durability of a present-day rotating system, and inability to realize the Programme might witness the fact that European integration is in deep crises.  Thus, the Treaty signing was the main priority of Italian presidency program and Silvio Berlusconi as a chairperson was trying to achieve settled goal, however, failed. Many political observers claimed this to be a disaster while French president Jacques Shirack stated that the history of the European integration was a raw of failures, but never a movement back. At that time he couldn’t imagine that in May 2005 French citizens would say “NO” to the Treaty.

As a whole, the work on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe has been very difficult – since it touched upon national interests of many countries and this contributed to discussions and clashes. It is quite logical that opinions were divided and the member-states couldn’t find the consensus. The reason to that could have been also the Treaty of Nice which was reached in 2000. In accordance with this Treaty votes in the EU Council were redistributed in accordance with political, economic, demographical weight of a country.  The present-day system, where 345 votes were divided among the countries would be abolished. For example, Poland and Spain got 27 votes under the Treaty of Nice, while Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain – only 29[2]. Starting in 2014, the EU members (which are 27 already) will make decisions in according to the “double majority” voting system.  Decisions can be made now in more policy areas than before by means of majority voting rather than by unanimous decisions. Such system satisfies France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. Poland and Spain, however, for a long time were against of this innovation and insisted on backgrounds of the Nice Treaty.  As a result, when Italy was presiding the EU, there were 92 disputes on the Constitution draft, however, the work was still going on and countries still had to find a compromise. For example, there were heated debates on remarks of Christianity and its traditions. Catholic countries – Spain, Italy, Poland insisted that Christianity should be mentioned in the draft while multiconfessional states claimed that then Judaism and Islam should be also mentioned.  The draft treaty was also seriously criticized by Moscow Patriarchy. Representatives of the church argued that in the draft preamble Rome and Greek civilizations are mentioned while the period of the Age of the Enlightenment dated from the 4th – 13th centuries is missing, when Christianity was powerful and predominant. In Spain authorities changed in March 2004 and Rodriguez-Zapatero took the office of a prime-minister. The country started its new foreign policy, new security policy, new strategic policy. Spain announced to withdraw troops from Iraq, and regarding the Treaty establishing a Constitution, Spain had nothing against, thus, Poland was left alone with its pretensions. Later Poland also softened its position.

The draft of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was a completely new text, not a re-writing of old ones, that was already an innovation. The EU under the Treaty gained its legal personality[3], and the procedure of elections to national parliaments got easier[4]. Other innovations were related to the introduction of a 2-year terms for a president of the European Union and a Minister of Foreign Affairs of the EU .

Thus, Italian presidency in the EU in 2003 didn’t result in the Treaty draft signing. On a session in Brussels on the 12 December 2003, member-states couldn’t still reach a consensus: «Integrational plans of elite not always find enough support by citizens which are not sure about the necessity of steps taken by the EU institutions»[5]. There were many unsolved issues and from this point of view, Italian elite’s wish to sign a draft might be treated as ambitious. New terms for the Constitution signing were defined – after the 1st of May 2004 when 10 new member-states will join the EU and in June 2004 European parliamentary elections will take place.

The fact that the Constitution signing didn’t happen under Italian presidency meant that another member-state will take all the responsibilities on this issue. Starting from the 1st of January 2004 Ireland though being not a locomotive of the EU, however, a very important country which opinion is always seriously considered, started to preside over. However, it also failed with this crucial issue. Only under Dutch presidency starting from the 1st July to 31 December 2004 a long and laborious task on the Constitution ended finally with its signing.

The ceremony of a solemn signing took place in Rome on the 29th of October 2004. 25 leaders gathered in the Horatio Hall on Campidoglio square in Rome where the Treaties of Rome in 1957 were reached. The High Contracting Parties “drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law, believing that Europe intends to continue along the path of civilization, progress, and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived, determined to continue the work accomplished within the framework of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and the Treaty of the European Union”[6] have agreed to sign the Constitution draft. Afterwards, prime-minister Berlusconi made an address where he called for the member-states not to prolong the Treaty’s ratification[7]. In order the Treaty to be ratified a member-state should have a referendum or ratify it through one’s parliament.

The main clashes happened during ratification of the Treaty on French and Dutch referendums. On the 29th of May and 2nd of June 2005 France and the Netherlands voted against ratification of the Constitutional Treaty and this is despite the fact that the draft was seriously elaborated and signed under Dutch presidency. Another issue arose since without ratification the EU won’t become a tight union of European states.  As to Italy, the upper chamber, the Senate on the 6th of April 2005 ratified the Treaty establishing a Constitution. There were 217 senators in favor and only 16 – against.  The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, approved the draft in January 2005. Italian parliament became the first parliament of heavily populated European countries which has ratified the Treaty.

As a result of French and Dutch referendums, the Constitution was doomed to failure and the EU faced a serious institutional deadlock which lasted for 2,5 years till December 2007.


[1] Italian Presidency Guide: [Electronic resource] / Italian Presidency Guide. – Electron.doc. – Access to doc.: http://www.webershandwick-eu.com/files/guide_presidency_it.pdf,  free. – Screen title.-Eng.lang.

[2] The Treaty of Nice amending the Treaty of European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts: [Electronic resource] / Treaty of Nice. – Electron.doc. – Access to doc.: http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/treaties/dat/nice.html, free. – Screen title.-Eng.lang.

[3]The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe / The European parliament and the European constitution. – Luxemburg.: Office for official publications of the European Commission, 2005.- Part I, Title I, Art.I-7.

[4] Ibidem, Title VI, Chapter I, Section 1, Art.III-332; Protocol on the role of national parliaments in the EU.

[5]Khudoley К. Russia and the EU: certain perspectives of the relations// 50th anniversary of the European communities and Russia: past, present and future. – St.Petersburg, 2002.- Vol.7.- С.81-86.

[6] The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe : [Electronic resource] / Constitutional Treaty.Preambule. – Electron.doc. – Access to doc.: www.eurotreaties.com/constitutiontext.html , free. – Screen title.-Eng.lang.

[7] Address given by S. Berlusconi at the signing of the Constitutional Treaty : [Electronic resource] / Video clip. – Electron.doc. – Access to doc.: http://www.ena.lu/address_given_silvio_berlusconi_signing_constitutional_treaty_rome_october_2004-02-23815, , free. – Screen title.-It.lang.



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