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EU Constitution: the State of Play

The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was adopted by the European Union’s Member States in Brussels on 17 and 18 June 2004.  The Constitution is divided into four parts, containing respectively the provisions which define the European Union, its objectives, powers and institutions, the Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the policies and operation of the Union and, final clauses, including the procedures for adopting and revising the Constitution. It states that the Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples, and that the Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and a single market where competition is free and undistorted. In order to achieve these aims, the Constitution provides that European Union’s members confer certain competences on the Union.

One goal in creating a constitution was to simplify the structure of the European Union, which evolved based on a series of treaties. To view the texts and histories of the treaties, see the European Union's page here, or the Columbia Law Library's research guide, here. The 2001 Laeken Declaration, establishing the Convention, set out further goals for a constitution. These included to “clarify, simplify and adjust the division of competence between the Union and the Member States in the light of the new challenges facing the Union.” Among these challenges is the enlargement of the Union, which grew from 15 to 25 member nations in 2004 and is expected to grow further.

The Constitutional Treaty is based on an initial draft prepared by the Convention on the Future of Europe.  The Convention was headed by former French president Valéry Giscard D’Estaing and made up of 105 delegates, both from the current and future EU member nations.  The draft prepared by the Convention was presented to the European Council Meeting in Thessaloniki in June 2003.  The member states failed to approve it during the Intergovernmental Conference held in the Fall of 2003, due to differences over the provisions concerning the size and composition of the Commission and the definition and scope of qualified majority voting.  An agreement was finally attained in June 2004.  In October 2004, the Treaty was signed in Rome by the 25 Member States of the European Union and three candidate countries (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey).

The EU Constitution will enter into force if it is ratified by all Union’s member states in accordance with the modalities of their national legislations.  13 member states have ratified the Treaty, either by parliamentary procedures or by referendum.  For information on the ratification process click here.

In May 2005, the Constitution was rejected in the French referendum; a month later Dutch voters rejected the Constitution.  At the meeting of the European Council in June 2005, the Member States agreed on convoking a period of reflection.  The deadline for ratifying the Constitutional Treaty was prolonged indefinitely.  Most of the member states froze their ratification processes; only Luxembourg stuck to its original timetable, ratifying the Constitution by referendum in July 2005.  The state of discussions on ratification of the Constitutional Treaty will be examined by the European Council in the first half of 2006.

EU Constitution Highlights

The proposed constitution is more than 200 pages long and includes the following provisions:

  • The EU will for the first time have a "legal personality" and its laws will trump those of national parliaments.
  • The EU will have full authority in trade policy, but will share authority with member states in areas including justice, transportation, and economic and social policy.
  • The EU will have two presidents, one for the Council of the European Union, which consists of the heads of state of each member country, and another for the European Commission, the Union's administrative arm.
  • The EU will have one foreign minister.
  • Every national of a member state shall be a citizen of the union.
  • The EU will have competence "to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy."
  • Each country has the right to veto any decision on foreign policy and defense.
  • Decision-making by majority vote is extended to new areas, including justice, law enforcement, immigration, asylum, energy and the annual European Union budget.
  • The new Treaty incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Member states may secede from the union under an established procedure if they choose.


  • Andrew Moravcsik, The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, Multi-Level Governance and European Integration, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
  • Larry Siedentop, Democracy in Europe, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  • Jürgen Schwarze (ed.), La naissance d'un ordre constitutionnel européen. L'interaction du droit constitutionnel national et européen, Baden-Baden et Bruxelles, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft/Bruylant (2001).
  • Bruno de Witte (ed.), Ten reflections on the Constitutional Treaty for Europe, Florence: EUI, 2003.
  • Erik O. Erikssen, John E. Fossum and Agustín J. Menéndez, (eds.) Developing a European constitution, London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Clive Church and David Phinnemore, Understanding the European Constitution: an introduction to the EU constitutional treaty, London: Routledge, 2005.
  • Guy Milton and Jacques Keller-Noellet, The European Constitution: its origins, negotiations and meaning, London: John Haper Publishing, 2005.
  • Steven Blockmans, Deirdre Curtin, and Alfred E. Kellerman (eds.), The EU Constitution: The Best Way Forward?, The Hague: Asser Press, 2006.

Written July 18, 2003. Updated  Nov 8, 2006.

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