By Joachim Fritz-Vannahme, GERMANY
The innovations of the Reform Treaty include greater rights for the European Parliament, the Citizens’ Initiative and a strengthening of the common foreign policy
The future of Europe began on 13 December 2007, the day on which the heads of state and government and the foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) signed the EU Reform Treaty in the Portuguese capital
The first answer is simple. The community’s citizens have, for example, gained recourse to the instrument of the Citizens’ Initiative. With at least one million signatures, they can petition the European Commission to present legislative proposals. The Commission, however, does not have any obligation to do so. Nonetheless, the provision is a citizen-friendly instrument that many member countries do not have in their own constitutions. In everyday life, however, the extended powers of the European Parliament (EP), which is directly elected by the citizens of the EU, will have greater weight. As a rule, the Parliament will participate in decision-making in all policy areas and therefore attain equality with the Council (of national governments). The budgetary powers of the citizens’ representatives in the European Parliament are also being extended, and the so-called obligatory expenditure on agricultural policy, which still accounts for a good 40% of the budget, can no longer be exempted from their decisions. As a result, the representatives will finally have direct control of the people’s tax money.
More importantly and even more spectacularly, in future the President will be elected in a process linked to the results of the European elections – and no longer merely confirmed in office following appointment by national governments. That will perhaps enable a Europe-wide election campaign with presidential candidates in the 2009 European elections. If the national governments play along and take this opportunity, this election could become the first really exciting European ballot.
Citizens’ influence through parliament is also being reinforced in another area: in future, the national houses are to contribute “actively to the smooth functioning of the
New rules also apply for the Council, the forum of 27 member states and their governments. In future, it will be able to make decisions on the basis of a “qualified majority” in 181 EU policy areas (previously 137). New areas include police and justice cooperation or common transport policy. As a result, this body, which has undisputed democratic legitimation through national elections, will make decisions on the basis of normal parliamentary rules. The days of the veto are therefore numbered, and an individual country can no longer dictate the path taken by the majority. Decisions will thus become clearer and more understandable, which will not only increase the power of the
The opinion polls have been saying it for years: European citizens expect the
Finally, hidden away in a small passage of this complex contractual labyrinth lies one attractive improvement for EU citizens. For the first time, provision has been made for the possibility not only of accession to, but also of secession from the European Union. What does that mean for EU citizens? A great deal. After all, a withdrawal of this kind is only conceivable as a final step following deep dissatisfaction with the EU, for example, in the wake of hefty political debate within one member state. The
(Joachim Fritz-Vannahme worked for many years as an editor at Die Zeit and is now in charge of