Select Committee on European Union Eleventh Report


THE 2000 INTER-GOVERNMENTAL CONFERENCE

PART 2: BACKGROUND

HISTORY

9. The European Economic Community was founded in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. Since the United Kingdom joined the Community there have been, apart from modest and technical Treaty changes following the successive enlargements of the EC/EU, three IGCs which have led to significant Treaty change:

10. The first of these was essentially concerned with amending the Treaty of Rome with the main object of securing the completion of the Single (or internal) Market. Significantly, the Single European Act introduced qualified majority voting (QMV) in order to speed up the adoption of internal market (and other) measures. The Maastricht Treaty also made substantial amendments to the Treaty of Rome (or Treaty establishing the European Community - the EC Treaty as it is now more commonly known), including those necessary to pave the way for Economic and Monetary Union. But the Maastricht Treaty went much further and formally established the European Union, based on the so-called "pillar" structure. Maastricht added alongside the Treaties establishing the European Communities (the EC, ECSC and Euratom Treaties - "the first pillar") provisions relating to a common foreign and security policy ("the second pillar") and to co-operation in justice and home affairs ("the third pillar"). The Amsterdam Treaty amended and updated the Treaties and made a number of politically significant changes, particularly in the areas of fundamental rights, employment and the free movement of persons. As regards the last, Amsterdam introduced the concept of "an area of freedom, security and justice". This includes a new free movement chapter in the EC Treaty, largely made up of provisions on asylum, immigration and visa policy (moved from the third pillar into the first) and the incorporation of the Schengen acquis.

11. The three previous IGCs have each marked a substantial step towards European integration. The present IGC, if successful, will be the fourth major round of Treaty change in the EU within 14 years.

12. The need for further reform of the Treaties arises partly from the failure of the Amsterdam European Council (which concluded the previous IGC) to reach agreement on institutional changes necessary for enlargement of the EU to take place. The Amsterdam Treaty contains a Protocol on the Institutions with the Prospect of Enlargement of the European Union, which provides that:

Article 1 (extract)

    "At the date of entry into force of the first enlargement of the Union … the Commission shall comprise one national of each of the Member States, provided that, by that date, the weighting of votes in the Council has been modified, whether by reweighting of the votes or by dual majority, in a manner acceptable to all Member States, taking into account all relevant elements, notably compensating those Member States which give up the possibility of nominating a second member of the Commission."

Article 2

    "At least one year before the membership of the European Union exceeds twenty, a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States shall be convened in order to carry out a comprehensive review of the provisions of the Treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions."

13. The extract from Article 1 of the Protocol sets out two of the core agenda items for the IGC, the size and composition of the Commission and the reweighting of votes in the Council, and makes it clear that the two are linked. A third item was added in a Declaration by Belgium, France and Italy on the Protocol, which argued that "a significant extension of recourse to qualified majority voting forms part of the relevant factors which should be taken into account."

THE COLOGNE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

14. The timetable and core agenda for the IGC were agreed at the Cologne European Council on

  3-4 June 1999 and were set out in paragraphs 52-53 of the Presidency Conclusions:

"52. In order to ensure that the European Union's institutions can continue to work efficiently after enlargement, the European Council confirms its intention of convening a Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States early in 2000 to resolve the institutional issues left open in Amsterdam that need to be settled before enlargement. The Conference should be completed and the necessary amendments to the Treaties agreed upon at the end of 2000.

53. In accordance with the Amsterdam Protocol on the institutions with the prospect of enlargement of the European Union and the declarations made with regard to it, the brief of the Intergovernmental Conference will cover the following topics:

Other necessary amendments to the Treaties arising as regards the European institutions in connection with the above issues and in implementing the Treaty of Amsterdam, could also be discussed."

THE HELSINKI EUROPEAN COUNCIL

15. The European Council in Helsinki, on 10-11 December 1999, confirmed the Cologne agenda, and added a significant further provision:

16. The Portuguese Presidency's report is discussed in more detail in Part 3 of this Report. Perhaps the most significant addition which it made to the agenda was the question of reinforced co-operation or flexibility.

17. The Helsinki Council also set out the working methods and precise timetable for the Conference. It was to be officially convened in early February 2000[10] and was to complete its work and agree the necessary amendments to the Treaties by December 2000. Paragraphs 17 to 19 of the Conclusions contained the following provisions on working methods:

    "17. Ministers who are members of the General Affairs Council[11] will have overall political responsibility for the Conference. Preparatory work shall be carried out by a Group composed of a representative of each Member State's Government[12]. The representative of the Commission shall participate at the political and preparatory level. The General Secretariat of the Council will provide secretariat support for the Conference.

    18. The European Parliament will be closely associated and involved in the work of the Conference. Meetings of the preparatory Group may be attended by two observers from the European Parliament. Each session of the Conference at ministerial level will be preceded by an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament, assisted by two representatives of the European Parliament. Meetings at the level of Heads of State or Government dealing with the IGC will be preceded by an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament.

    19.The Presidency will take the necessary steps to ensure that candidate States are regularly briefed within existing fora on the progress of discussions and have the opportunity to put their points of view on matters under discussion. Information will also be given to the European Economic Area."

PREPARING THE UNION FOR ENLARGEMENT

18. The most significant challenge facing the EU in this IGC is to make the Union ready to cope with enlargement. Accession negotiations have been opened with 12 candidate states[13]. The Committee has previously reported on Enlargement of the EU: Progress and Problems[14]. In that report[15], the Select Committee concluded that it was an "absolute political imperative" that the IGC should be completed on schedule. It considered that the pace of enlargement could be constrained by failure to agree on the detail of institutional reform, and that this could have a seriously damaging effect on the confidence of the applicant countries. We maintain that view. The applicant countries are being required to make major changes in order to comply with the Copenhagen criteria[16]. The contrast between the efforts being made by the applicant countries and the lack of progress by the present Member States on EU institutional reform is striking. It is against this background that we have considered the IGC agenda and the progress made to date.


9   Presidency Conclusions, Helsinki European Council, 10 - 11 December 1999. Back

10   The Conference began work at the General Affairs Council of 14 February 2000. Back

11   For the United Kingdom, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and the Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz. Back

12   For the United Kingdom, Sir Stephen Wall, UK Permanent Representative to the EU, who will be replaced as Permanent Representative by Mr Nigel Sheinwald in September 2000. Back

13   Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. In addition, the Helsinki Council Conclusions stated that "Turkey is a candidate State destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate States". Formal accession negotiations with Turkey have not yet begun. Back

14   21st Report, 1998-99, HL Paper 118. Back

15   At paragraph 102. Back

16   The "Copenhagen Criteria" were laid down in the Conclusions of the 1993 Copenhagen European Council, which specified the conditions which would be applied in judging whether an applicant was ready for membership: "Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union". Back


 
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