European Constitution 2004–2005

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On 29 October 2004 the twenty-five member states of the European Union (EU) signed the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (hereinafter Constitution). If it enters into force, the Constitution will replace all existing treaties that first established the European Communities and then reformed them over the years. While much of the Constitution is taken directly from the earlier treaties, there are a number of novelties, such as the creation of a permanent post of President of the European Council and the establishment of the office of EU Foreign Minister, supported by a new External Action Service. The Constitution includes 448 articles and 36 protocols. Its substantive provisions are grouped together in four parts:

  • Part I deals with the EU's general objectives, competences, and institutional framework;
  • Part II incorporates the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • Part III contains more specifics on the EU's internal and external policies and functioning; and
  • Part IV deals with the EU's general and final provisions, such as the procedure for revision.

The route toward the Constitution was launched at the Laeken European Council of 14 and 15 December 2001. The EU's heads of state or government considered institutional reform essential in view of the EU's upcoming expansion from fifteen to twenty-five member states in 2004. Earlier attempts to adjust the EU's institutional functioning had produced only meager results. The Treaty of Nice, signed on 26 February 2001, forms the most notorious example of a complex agreement including only minimal achievements. The Treaty of Nice and its predecessors had been negotiated at Intergovernmental Conferences (IGCs). These are meetings of government representatives behind closed doors. In an attempt to open up the preparatory process of treaty reform, the heads of state or government decided at Laeken to establish a Convention. The Convention brought together representatives of all member states, national parliaments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission. It debated in public between February 2002 and July 2003. Under the strong leadership of former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (b. 1926), the Convention succeeded in adopting—by consensus—a draft treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The draft was submitted to the President of the European Council on 18 July 2003. While the Convention prepared the Constitution, it had no legal powers to formally amend the existing treaties. This required another traditional IGC. After a year of tough IGC bargaining among the member states, the Constitution was signed in Rome.

The Constitution can enter into force only after having been ratified by all twenty-five member states. The ratification process takes place in accordance with the constitutional requirements that are proper to each member state. This sometimes involves a referendum. By January 2006, thirteen member states had successfully ratified. In the referenda in France and the Netherlands, a majority of the voters expressed themselves against the Constitution. In France, the referendum was held on 29 May 2005. With a turnout rate of 69 percent, the "no" obtained 55 percent of votes. The actual text of the Constitution motivated only a fifth of "no" voters. The unemployment situation in France was given as the main reason for the "no" vote. The Dutch referendum was held on 1 June 2005. With a turnout rate of 63 percent, the "no" obtained 62 percent of votes. Among the "no" voters, 28 percent indicated that their key motivation was the economic and social situation in the Netherlands, 23 percent voted "no" because of their negative overall opinion on the EU, and a further 21 percent held that they specifically opposed the text of the Constitution.

In reaction to the results in France and the Netherlands, the European Council of 16 and 17 June 2005 called for a period of reflection to enable a broad debate in each of the member states. While the heads of state or government declared that the negative referenda in France and the Netherlands would not call into question the validity of continuing with the ratification processes, the British government had already decided on 6 June 2005 to suspend the ratification procedure indefinitely. The negative referenda in France and the Netherlands did not bring the EU to a halt. The European institutions continued functioning on the basis of the existing treaty framework.

See alsoConstitutions; European Union.


Devuyst, Youri. The European Union Transformed: Community Method and Institutional Evolution from the Schuman Plan to the Constitution for Europe. Brussels, 2005.

European Commission. Flash Eurobarometer 171: The European Constitution: Post-Referendum Survey in France. Luxembourg, 2005.

——. Flash Eurobarometer 172: The European Constitution: Post-Referendum Survey in the Netherlands. Luxembourg, 2005.

Milton, Guy, Jacques Keller-Noellet, and Agnieszka Barto-Saurel. The European Constitution: Its Origins, Negotiation and Meaning. London, 2005.

Youri Devuyst

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European Constitution 2004–2005

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European Constitution 2004–2005