Frequently Asked Questions about the Reform Treaty

1. Why is the Reform Treaty being adopted?

The Reform Treaty is designed to revitalise the European Union. The current structures of the EU were designed for a Union with much fewer Member States. Like any organisation that has grown in size, its arrangements need to be updated so as to allow it function more effectively and more democratically.

There is also a need to give the EU a clearer voice in world affairs so that it can address such issues as climate change and the fight against poverty and injustice.

2. How does the Reform Treaty differ from the EU Constitution?

In substance, the Reform Treaty and the EU Constitution are quite similar.

The principal differences between the Reform Treaty and the EU Constitution are:

  • The Constitutional title and symbolism and the reference to the EU flag and anthem have been dropped;
  • The Reform Treaty amends the existing EU Treaties, some of which have been in place for more than 50 years rather than replacing them;
  • The limits on the Union’s competences are more clearly defined;
  • National Parliaments have been given a stronger role;
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights has been removed from the Treaty, but will still have legally binding treaty status;
  • Ireland has been given a special arrangement which allows us to participate in EU measures on judicial cooperation in criminal matters and police cooperation on a case-by-case basis.

3. When will the Reform Treaty come into effect?

The target date is 1 January 2009. Before it can come into effect, the Treaty must be ratified by all 27 Member States. It is a matter for each country to decide how it will ratify the Treaty.

4. How will Ireland ratify?

The Attorney General has advised that a referendum will be required for Ireland to ratify the Reform Treaty. The date for the referendum is a matter for decision by the Government.

5. How are other countries planning to ratify?

Each Member State will ratify in accordance with its own constitutional and legal requirements. Almost all Member States clearly intend to ratify by parliamentary means and it is likely that Ireland will be the only country to hold a referendum.

6. What is the Charter of Fundamental Rights?

The Reform Treaty will confer legal status on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter deals with citizens’ rights and freedoms. The Charter consists of fifty-four articles. The rights covered are diverse and include the prohibition of torture, respect for private and family life, the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial, and also citizens rights such as the right to vote and stand as a candidate at elections to the European Parliament. The Treaty makes it clear that the Charter applies to the Union’s institutions and to Member States in their implementation of EU law, but does not encroach on the national competences of the Member States.

7. Does the Treaty involve giving up national vetoes in many areas?

The Treaty does not involve changes in areas of sensitivity to Ireland such as taxation and defence. Unanimity is preserved for all decisions in these areas. This means that all Member States must agree to any new proposals in these areas.

There will be an increase in the number of areas in which decisions can be taken by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Most of these are of a technical character or relate to areas where the union has only limited competence. Examples of new areas where QMV applies are: the procedure for entry into the euro; administrative cooperation; internal EU financial regulations; humanitarian aid operations; and police cooperation (where Ireland is not obliged to take part but has the right to participate in individual measures).

In a 27-member Union, it is essential be able to take decisions by a majority vote if Europe is to function efficiently.

8. What will be the role for the President of the European Council?

The members of the European Council are the Heads of Government of the Member States and the President of the European Commission. At present, the Council is chaired on a rotating basis by the Head of Government of the country holding the 6 month EU Presidency.

The Reform Treaty provides for a new post of Presidentof the European Council (elected for a renewable term of two-and-a-half years). The President will not have decision-making powers, but will coordinate the work of the European Council, chair its meetings, and provide continuity.

9. What will be the role for the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy?

The High Representative will draw together the current functions of the Council’s High Representative for Common and Foreign Security Policy and the EU Commissioner for External Relations. The High Representative will chair the regular meetings of EU Foreign Ministers and will be Vice-President of the European Commission. This new position is an opportunity for the EU to increase its influence in international affairs. This is particularly important for smaller Member States such as Ireland, who appreciate that greater progress can be made internationally when the Union speaks with a single united voice.

10. Does the Treaty have any implications for an EU corporate tax?

The Treaty has no implications whatsoever in the area of corporate taxation. Any proposals concerning Corporation Tax will require a unanimous decision of the 27 Member States.

11. What are the implications for security and defence?

The Reform Treaty makes some amendments to existing provisions on security and defence but does not change their essential features. The Union will have an enhanced capacity for activity in support of international peace and security – e.g. in peace-keeping, conflict prevention, humanitarian and rescue tasks, crisis management – based on capabilities provided by the Member States. Such activities will be undertaken in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Decisions in this area will continue to be taken by unanimity, and the deployment of troops by any Member State for a particular mission will remain for sovereign decision by that State.

The need to respect the different traditions in this area of Member States – a formulation originally proposed by Ireland – is, as in previous Treaties, made explicit. Ireland will remain constitutionally debarred from participation in an EU common defence, should that ever be agreed, unless the people decide otherwise in a future referendum.

12. What are the implications of the Treaty for smaller Member States?

The Treaty contains a number of important elements designed to protect the interests of the smaller Member States.

The new system of double-majority voting, for example, will give weight to overall population, but no decision can be taken without the support of at least 15 Member States. This means that small and medium-sized Member States will retain important influence in EU decision making.

The interests of smaller Member States are also protected with regard to the composition of the European Commission. There will be one Commissioner from each Member State until 2014.

Thereafter, a national from each Member State will sit on two Commissions out of three on the basis of strictly equal rotation. This is a considerable departure from previous arrangements under which the larger Member States once had the right to nominate two members of the Commission.

13. What role does the Reform Treaty give to National Parliaments?

The Treaty gives a new role within the EU to national parliaments. All proposals for EU legislation will be forwarded to national parliaments for their consideration. National parliaments will have a period of 8 weeks in which to vet proposals and offer opinions on them. If enough national parliaments object to a proposal, it can either be amended or withdrawn. Any national parliament can block moves to increase the number of policy issues that can be decided by majority voting.

14. What new powers does the Reform Treaty give to the European Parliament?

The role of the European Parliament will be strengthened in relation to the Union’s budget and through the extension of areas to which co-decision between the Council and Parliament will apply.

15. How will the new voting system work?

Under the Reform Treaty, a new system of ‘double majority’ voting will apply. Decisions will normally require the support of 55% of the Member States representing 65% of the Union’s population. This means that only those measures that genuinely command majority support can be adopted at EU level.