Cowen Signs the Treaty of Nice
At a ceremony today in Nice the Treaty of Nice was signed, subject to ratification, by the representatives of the fifteen Member States of the European Union. The Treaty was signed on behalf of Ireland by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen TD.
The Treaty puts into legal form the agreement reached at Nice in December 2000 at the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference. In order to come into effect the Treaty must be ratified by all fifteen Member States.
The text of the Treaty is at present undergoing legal review with a view to determining whether a referendum will be required to permit ratification in this jurisdiction. It is expected that this review process will be completed shortly.
The successful completion of the negotiations, and the signing of the Treaty, indicates the Union's determination to ensure that the process of enlargement moves forward on schedule. With the necessary institutional reform now in place, the Union is well placed to cooperate with the candidate countries to ensure the fastest possible progress in the accession negotiations.
Speaking in Nice, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said: "With the signature of the Treaty of Nice we have taken a further step towards preparing for a historic enlargement of the European Union. The Treaty provides for reform in the institutions and decision-making procedures which will equip an enlarged Union to function effectively, while maintaining important balances. From a national perspective, Ireland has an obvious interest in the success of enlargement, and in a well-functioning European Union".
The Minister added "The overall outcome of the Treaty negotiations is satisfactory from Ireland's viewpoint. We are particularly pleased that, in relation to a major negotiating priority, it was possible to maintain the requirement for unanimity on taxation. At the same time it was possible to extend qualified majority voting to some 30 further areas - this will make it harder for a single Member State to block proposals of interest to ourselves and our partners. Indeed, we were prepared to go a good deal further in this regard but it did not prove possible to get agreement.
As regards the institutional changes, enlargement obviously requires adjustments to accommodate the new Member States. While no delegation got all it wanted, Ireland's interests were well-protected in the outcome. On the Commission, the large Member States gave up their Second Commissioner while all Member States will retain the right to nominate a Commissioner until the Union reaches 27. At that point decisions on a smaller Commission will be taken by unanimity. Most importantly, it was agreed that all Member States, big and small, must be treated on the basis of strict equality. The outcome on the Parliament was also satisfactory: our allocation of the seats was at the top of the range under consideration. It is perhaps worth noting that Ireland's percentage of seats will be more than double its percentage of the population in a Union of 27, a seat-population ratio more favourable than that of any other existing Member State, except Luxembourg. With regard to the Court of Justice, and the Court of Auditors, the right of each Member State to be represented is made explicit in the Treaty for the first time. A considerable number of reforms designed to improve the functioning of the Court of Justice have also been agreed, and will bring practical benefits in terms of reduced delays and the speedier processing of cases.
Referring to ratification of the Treaty, the Minister said: "The Treaty, of course, will only come into effect if ratified by all 15 Member States. To avoid delaying the enlargement process, the Member States have undertaken to seek to do so by the end of 2002. The question of whether a referendum will be required in this jurisdiction will be decided in the light of the advice of the Attorney General. However, the Government have instructed that the necessary preparations should already be put in hand on a contingency basis. It is likely that ratification in other Member States will be on the basis of approval by national Parliaments".
Note for Editors
TREATY OF NICE - SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS
In the Treaty of Nice, agreed at the European Council in Nice in December 2000, and signed on 26 February 2001 by Foreign Ministers, the Member States of the European Union took the decisions on institutional reform necessary to prepare the Union for enlargement. In particular, the Member States agreed changes in respect of the Commission, the weighting of Council votes, increased use of qualified majority voting, and the rules governing Enhanced Cooperation. Changes necessitated by enlargement were also made to the other institutions such as the European Parliament, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
From 2005, when the next Commission comes into office, the 5 largest States will forego their right to nominate a second member of the Commission. Each State, from that date, will nominate one Member of the Commission until the Union reaches 27, at which point the Council will decide, by unanimity, on a size for the Commission of less than the number of Member States. Membership of the Commission will be based on strict equal rotation among the Member States. The powers of the President of the Commission, including to request the resignation of a Commissioner, have been augmented.
Re-weighting of Council votes
Also from 2005, and as anticipated at Amsterdam, there will be re-weighting of Council votes, in particular to compensate those States giving up their second Commissioner. It is also agreed that decisions taken by qualified majority must have the support of at least half the Member States; on request, decisions will also require the support of at least 62% of the Union's total population. Ireland will continue to have the same voting weight as Finland and Denmark.
Extension of qualified majority voting
The agreement at Nice to move some 30 provisions from unanimity to qualified majority, will help improve decision-making in the Council, and includes important areas such as international agreements in services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property, nomination of the President of the Commission; structural funds (after 2007) and certain EMU articles. All aspects of taxation will remain subject to unanimity, a key negotiating objective for Ireland.
Enhanced cooperation by smaller groups of States, already permitted under the Treaties, will be easier to invoke, as the ‘emergency brake' veto has been removed, and, post-enlargement, the minimum size for an enhanced cooperation group will be 8 MS (at present a majority of Member States is required). Enhanced cooperation will not apply in the area of security and defence. Any future use of enhanced cooperation will be accompanied by a variety of safeguards, including an important role for the Commission and the automatic right of entry for willing participants.
European Parliament / Other institutions
With enlargement, all Member States will see their relative share of seats in the European Parliament reduced. Ireland's allocation of MEPs will be 12 (now 15) in a Union of 27, the reduction phased according to the pace of accessions. The right of each Member State to have a Judge at the Court of Justice and a Member of the Court of Auditors has been formalised, while valuable reforms to the procedures of both bodies were agreed. Ireland's allocation of seats for the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee is unchanged at 9 on each body.
The Nice European Council also sketched out a timetable for consideration of other questions raised, but not decided, during the IGC, such as: the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; a catalogue of competencies (to determine the appropriate level for dealing with issues within the Union); the role of national parliaments in the EU framework; and the simplification of the Treaties. The Swedish Presidency is due to bring proposals to the European Council in Göteborg in June for structuring a broad consultation process on the areas identified. The European Council in December 2001 is expected to outline a framework for further dialogue to be carried out in preparation for a likely future IGC in 2004. Top