The Treaty of Nice (Treaty), drafted during an intergovernamental conference started in February 2000, was finalized at the Nice European Council of 11 December 2000 and signed on 26 February 2001. It entered into force on 1 February 2003 after being ratified by the fifteen Member States according to their respective constitutional rules.
The Treaty of Amsterdam, approved in 1997, provided for the convening of the 2000 intergovernmental conference in its Protocol on the institutions in the context of the enlargement of the Union, specifying that "at least one year before the membership of the European Union exceeds twenty, a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States shall be convened in order to carry out a comprehensive review of the provisions of the Treaties on the composition and functioning of the institutions 1."
The Cologne European Council of June 1999 confirmed this necessity. The Helsinki European Council of December 1999 decided that the intergovernmental conference would deal with the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council, the extension of qualified-majority voting, as well as any other institutional adjustments that would have to be made to the Treaties in connection with the above issues and in the context of implementing the Treaty of Amsterdam. As the possibility had been left open for new items, in the Feira European Council of June 2000, enhanced cooperation was also added. The preparation for the intergovernmental conference began in October 1999 when, at the request of the Commission, a Group of high level experts led by Mr Dehaene presented a report on the institutional implications of the enlargement, which led the Commission to adopt its opinion "Adapting the institutions to make a success of enlargement". After consultation of the Commission and the Parliament, as provided in Article 48 of the Treaty on the European Union 2, the conference began on 14 February 2000 under the Portuguese Presidency 3. The mandate of the conference included the drafting of amendments to the treaties concerning the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council, the extension of qualified-majority voting and enhanced cooperation. The Treaty, as mentioned, was signed on 26 February 2001 and entered into force on 1 February 2003.
Structure of the Treaty
The Treaty consists of two parts and four Protocols. The Final Act also includes twenty-four declarations and takes note of three further declarations from different Member States. The first part consists of six articles and includes amendments to the Treaty on European Union (Article 1), to those establishing the European Community (Article 2), the European Atomic Energy Community (Article 3) and the European Steel and Coal Community 4 (Article 4), to the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank (Article 5), and to the Protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Communities (Article 6). Part two, which consists of Articles 7 to 13, includes the transitional and final amendments. The Treaty has four annexed Protocols concerning (i) the enlargement of the European Union dealing with the composition of the European Parliament and the Commission and the weighting of votes in the Council; (ii) the Statute of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance; (iii) the financial consequences of the expiry of the ECSC Treaty (European Coal and Steel Community); (iv) Article 67 of the EU Treaty 5.
With regards to the modifications to the Treaty on European Union, the Treaty qualified the procedures concerning serious violations of the principles of the European Union 6. In the field of foreign affairs, the scope of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the relationships with other international organisations competent in the same field – such as NATO and the Western European Union - as well as procedural issues on international agreements, were determined. Cooperation in criminal affairs was regulated with regards to conflicts of jurisdiction, harmonisation, coordination and extradition. It is relevant to remember also the definition of the activities undertaken by "Eurojust", which shall contribute to coordinating national authorities competent for criminal prosecution. The tool of enhanced cooperation between some Member States was also developed, on the condition that they strengthen the integration process without compromising the internal market and economic and social cohesion. Veto powers were eliminated from the enhanced cooperation 7. Various procedural issues were also resolved. Rules were also adopted with regards to the adoption of a statute for European political parties.
As for institutional issues, the Treaty:
-Extended the qualified majority voting, which had already become prevalent with the Amsterdam Treaty and was extended to other matters for specific policies8, institutional matters and the CFSP (Common foreign and security policy);
-Established a Social Protection Committee, aimed at fostering cooperation in the field of social protection;
-Changed the pondering of votes, within the Council, in favour of the most populated States and established rules for voting with 25 and, later, 27 States;
- Strengthened, within the Commission, the powers of the President and reviewed its appointment;
-Reformed the repartition of competences between the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance;
-Extended, in favour of the Parliament, the use of the co-decision procedure and reviewed the number of representatives to be attributed to each current or future Member State;
-Modified the composition and appointment procedures for members of the Court of Justice, Court of Auditors, European Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions.
The Treaty was important both for its developing further areas of the European integration and for improving the decisional process under the necessity of the enlargement of the Union.
As for the first issue, the innovations concerning the CSFP and fundamental rights were particularly important. As for the decision process, it is important to remember the increased flexibility introduced for enhanced cooperation (less strict conditions, elimination of the power of veto and extension of the interested fields), the extension of the qualified majority voting and the redetermination of weighting and determination of competences of the institutions.
The period subsequent to the entering into force of the Treaty
At the entering into force of the Nice Treaty, a further verification of the future of the Union was already foreseen, with the aim of further developing the issues concerning the competences of the Union and of Member States, the Charter of fundamental rights, the simplification of the treaties and the role of national parliaments in the European architecture.
With the Laeken declaration of December 2001, the European Council specified that the reform would develop through a Convention, in order to prepare an intergovernmental conference. Similarly to the Convention that established the Charter of fundamental rights, the Convention was composed of representatives from national governments and parliaments in the Member States and candidate countries and representatives from the European Parliament and the Commission. Its inaugural session was held on 28 February 2002 and work came to an end after 17 months of discussions. The Convention produced a draft Treaty establishing a European Constitution that was presented to the Thessaloniki European Council. The draft Constitution served as a basis for the work of the intergovernmental conference, convened in October 2003. The draft finalized by the Conference was signed by the Heads of State and Government on 29 October 2004. The entering into force of the Constitution was conditioned on ratification by all Member States, in accordance with each one's constitutional rules. Due to the difficulties encountered in certain States, the Heads of State and Government decided, at the European Council meeting on 16 and 17 June 2005, to launch a period of reflection on the future of Europe. At the European Council meeting on 21 and 22 June 2007, European leaders reached a compromise and agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference to draft, instead of a Constitution, a reform treaty for the European Union. The result was the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, after ratification by all 27 Member States, and includes relevant institutional and procedural reforms aimed at conforming the Union to its enlargement to 27 States and preparing it for the current economic and geopolitical challenges.
The accession treaties subsequent to the Treaty
When the Treaty of Nice was drafted, it was not known when and in what order the candidate countries would join the Union. It was thus necessary to set out the principles and methods for changing the composition of the Commission and redefining the qualified majority in the Council. Thus, as anticipated in the Protocol on enlargement and the Declarations annexed to the Treaty, the allocation of Parliamentary seats and Council votes to the new Member States and the qualified majority threshold applicable in the future were determined in details in their accession treaties. Thus, the Treaty of Accession of the ten new Member States, signed in Athens on 16 April 2003, and the Treaty of Luxembourg on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, signed on 25 April 2005, regulated the matter.
2 As per article 48, the conference can be requested by the Commission or by any Member State and if the Council, after having consulted the Parliament and, the case being, the Commission, decides in favour, the President convenes the Convention.
3 From July 2000 the conference worked under the French presidency.
4 The ECSC ended on 23 July 2002
5 Administrative cooperation between the Member States' administrations over visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons.
6 As defined in Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union.
7 The use of enhanced cooperation is to be considered an “extrema ratio”, and its costs are borne by participant States. The Council and the Commission ensure that enhanced cooperation does not conflict with other policies and actions of the Union.
8 For instance, the fight against discrimination; the free circulation in Member States; common principles for exile and immigration; cooperation in civil process matters.