Political agreement on the Treaty of Nice was reached on the morning of 11 December 2000, and the Treaty is officially signed on 26 February 2001. Before it can enter into force it will have to be ratified by the Member States. But if the first wave of enlargement is to take place in 20031 the new Treaty must be effectively implemented by 2002 at the latest.
The Treaty of Nice is the fourth European treaty in 13 years.2 In other words, since 1987 there has been a revision of the Treaties roughly every three years. This is an indication of both the pace of change in the European Union and the difficulty the partners have in keeping up with it.
The Treaty of Amsterdam was unable to resolve the three crucial
questions for the future of the enlarged Community:3 the composition of the Institutions and especially
the size of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council and the
extension of qualified-majority voting related to the co-decision procedure
(despite significant progress made in the last area). It was therefore clear
from the start that the priority of the new Intergovernmental Conference (IGC),
inaugurated on 14 February 2000, would be to deal with these three issues, the
unfinished business of Amsterdam, or the so-called Amsterdam's leftovers.
The size of the agenda was, in this context, the first battle between the Institutions and the Member States. How much should be included in the list of items to be discussed and resolved?4
The Treaty of Nice comes less than two years after the entry into force of its predecessor, the Treaty of Amsterdam (1 May 1999), at a time when its effects have not yet been completely consolidated. At the same time, the Treaty of Nice extends the Treaty of Amsterdam in areas where the latter should have offered appropriate solutions but failed to do so. The two treaties should thus be read in parallel to determine the institutional arsenal available to the EU as it enters the 21st century and the decision-making instruments it can wield to tackle the continent-wide challenges it now faces.
This paper sets out to do just this, in an initial analysis written just days after the conclusion of the IGC. It is in two parts: first we present the details of the negotiations prior to and during the IGC, examining the positions of the various actors (Institutions, Member States) on the main issues (Section A). We then comment on the results achieved in the various areas dealt with and discuss whether or not the problems have been resolved (Section B).
On the basis of this analysis we draw a number of conclusions as to the new balance of power within the EU and the likely consequences for the future of European integration when there are between 22 and 28 Member States.
We shall also consider the nature of the institutional architecture of the Community, as it emerges from the process of successive revisions of the Treaties, which are continually altering the balance between the actors in a permanent process of constitutional development.
Finally, we shall try to assess whether the new system can cope with the unprecedented enlargement of the EU and look ahead to the next stages in the process of integration.
1 Date mentioned at the Franco-German summit in Vittel on 11 November 2000.
2 After the Single European Act in 1987, the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993, and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997.
3 This enlargement is without precedent in EU history. Two waves of applicants are knocking at the EU's doors: the first group consists of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus and possibly Malta, and should join around 2003/4, while the accession of the second group, consisting of Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and possibly Turkey, is more problematic and planned for the end of the decade. By 2010, therefore, the EU could contain 28 Member States, leaving aside the former Yugoslav Republics and Albania, which will undoubtedly nurture European ambitions once they have established democratic governments. And the question of Europe's geographic frontiers has not even been decided yet...
4 See below, p. 7-9.