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Constitutional Committee gives green light to Intergovernmental Conference

Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee favors giving a green light to an intergovernmental conference (IGC) on EU treaty reform.

Its report, adopted on Monday and scheduled for a plenary vote on Wednesday in Strasbourg, says that although the proposed new EU treaty would incorporate the bulk of the draft constitution, EU cohesion could nonetheless be weakened by the exemptions granted to Member States. Parliament's opinion is required for the IGC to begin.

The committee approved a report by Jo Leinen (PES, DE) on the opening of an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on EU treaty reform. This report forms the basis of Parliament's opinion, which under Article 48 of the current EU Treaty, is required before the IGC can start work. But the committee opinion, which was approved with 18 votes in favor, four against and one abstention, voices certain reservations about the reform mandate.

Support for the overall package
Committee members welcomed the fact that the agreement reached by the European Council on 23 June included most of the content of the draft Constitution. Specifically, the EU's legal personality, the increased use of qualified majority voting (which would become the rule for all EU policies except defense, social security and fiscal policy) and the inclusion in the treaty of the Charter of Fundamental Rights are among the reforms deemed to guarantee a more efficient and democratic Union. The committee also expressed a positive opinion on the addition of the new provisions on energy solidarity and climate change. Finally, the approved text welcomes the tight timetable for the conclusion of the IGC, to allow the new Treaty to come into force before the 2009 European Parliament elections.

Shortcomings identified
Whilst broadly endorsing the content of the agreement on the treaty reforms, committee members criticized the IGC mandate as not adequately addressing the challenges that the Union faces today. MEPs regretted the increased number of exemptions granted to Member States in important areas, which could undermine the cohesion of the EU. Specifically, they disapproved of any derogation granted to Member States on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as damaging to the EU's identity. The committee also deplores the loss of parts of the draft Constitution, including symbols (flag and anthem), a clear statement of the primacy of EU law, and clearly comprehensible naming of legislative acts. MEPs therefore decided to consider modifying Parliament's procedural rules in order to lend an official character to the flag and the hymn.

Parliament aims to be fully involved in the IGC
According to the June European Council conclusions, the European Parliament will be closely involved in the work of the IGC. Three MEPs will join the conference to ensure that Parliament's voice is heard. During the previous IGC, in 2003-4, only two MEPs joined the meetings. Parliament is to choose its three IGC representatives on 12 July. Parliament wants to play an active role both during and after the negotiations. In fact, once briefed by its three representatives, Parliament will if necessary put forward proposals on specific issues within the scope of the mandate.

After the 2009 elections, according to the committee text, Parliament will also make proposals on further constitutional settlements for improving the functioning of the EU. Finally, the committee stressed the Parliament's intent to ensure full transparency of the IGC's work. Its opinion says that the EP will publish all the working documents submitted to the Conference. Moreover, it will keep an open dialogue with national parliaments and the civil society all throughout the IGC and during the following ratification procedure. (EP Press)