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Treaty of Nice

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Introduction

The Treaty of Nice was agreed at the Nice European Council in December 2000. It represented a further attempt by the governments of the member states to find a way of moving forward the process of European integration, and to prepare for the coming enlargement of the EU to include ten new members. Negotiations were divided by old arguments over how easily individual member states should be able to block new laws. Nevertheless, the final document made significant changes to how the EU would be run in the future.

History

Arguments raged over the direction of the EU following the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) as member states tried to reform the Commission and the European Council before enlargement. French President Jacques Chirac wanted to see more power given to the European Council and less power resting in the hands of the Commission. Meanwhile, Commission President Romano Prodi argued for the opposite model (giving more power to the Commission and less to the Council), while a third proposal came from German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer who set out a vision for a parliamentary European Federation.

This was the basis upon which an Intergovernmental Conference met throughout much of 2000 to discuss the reform of EU decision-making to prepare for enlargement. The same level of disagreement marked the Nice summit itself, with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair threatening to veto the treaty if France attempted to push through major reductions in Britain’s veto powers. Although agreement was finally reached, few viewed it as a successful process.

What did the Treaty of Nice do?

Much of the text of the treaty was concerned with reforming the decision-making of the EU. It extended Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in the European Council and removed national vetoes from 39 areas. It gave the power to elect the Commission President to the European Parliament and gave him the power to sack individual Commissioners.

Looking forward to enlargement, it set limits on the numbers of future Commissioners and MEPs, revised the voting powers of the member states in the European Council to give more weight to the largest states, and formalised the idea of enhanced co-operation first set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The treaty strengthened the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by creating the position of High Representative to act like the EU’s foreign representative. The position was strengthened by the idea that the Council should be able to negotiate on behalf of all members at international meetings. Finally, in the ‘Declaration on the Future of the European Union’, the Nice Council announced that another Intergovernmental Conference should be set up to write an EU constitution.