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Today, the European Union is an international organization comprised of 25 European countries that governs common economic, social, and security policies. While it was originally restricted solely to the nations of Western Europe, the EU has since expanded to include several central and eastern European countries (Gabel, 2006).
The countries of the EU today are, in alphabetical order, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Originally, the EU was created by the Maastricht Treaty, which entered into force on November 1, 1993; this treaty was intended to enhance European political and economic integration by creating a single currency (the euro), a unified foreign and security policy, common citizenship rights, and by advancing cooperation in the areas of immigration, asylum, and judicial affairs (Gabel, 2006).
In recent years, these trends towards unification and Europeanization have appeared unstoppable. In fact, in February 2005, voters in Spain ratified the European Constitutional Treaty or the European Constitution, as it is generally called (Gurfinkel, 2005). According to this author, "As the world knows by now, this is the document intended to supersede every previous all-European treaty and pact and to provide the European Union (EU) with a unified legal and political framework. Most Spanish political parties, including the ruling Socialist party and the main opposition party, had campaigned for a yes vote, which won by a resounding 75%. The turnout, however, was very low: 42% of registered voters" (Gurfinkel, 2005, p. 39).
At the time, this low voter turnout was largely ignored and the conventional wisdom among both pundits and politicians suggested that the results of the Spanish referendum would establish the trend for the other EU Member States that had likewise chose to conduct popular referendums on the constitution rather than deciding the matter in parliament. These nations were France (where the vote was to be held on May 29, 2005), the Netherlands (June 1, 2005), Luxemburg (July 10, 2005), Poland (September 25, 2005), Denmark (September 27, 2005), Portugal (October, 2005), Ireland (by end of the year 2005), the United Kingdom (Spring 2006), and the Czech Republic (June 2006) (Gurfinkel, 2005). "Each would surely vote yes," Gurfinkel notes, "perhaps not overwhelmingly but by a workable majority. As for the fifteen countries that had opted for ratification by parliament, the outcome seemed no less predictable: almost everywhere, Europhiles outnumbered Euroskeptics" (p. 40).
In 2003, though, the heads of state of the European Union failed to reach an agreement on the proposed constitution. Following the collapse of the negotiations, British Prime Minister Tony Blair recommended a "time for reflection," and suggested that representatives of the Member States should now demand another version (Kallmer, 2004). According to this author, "Europe certainly deserves better. The EU is at a pivotal moment in its history, and the way in which Europe's leaders craft its constitution could affect its second fifty years as profoundly as World War II affected its first" (p. 2). Likewise, a policy statement from the Ecumenical Review (2003) emphasizes that, "Europe is a diverse and evolving region, with multiple geographic, economic and religious parameters. The enlargement of the European Union to the east and south in 2004, and the expansion of NATO, along with the proposals for a new European Constitution by the convention on the future of Europe, will be decisive factors in shaping the destiny of the continent" (Statements on Public Issues, 2003, p. 401). In fact, a European constitution could provide a viable framework to promote democratic values and potentially improve the economic performance of its Member States; however, even this initiative would only represent part of a first step into a new sense of a European union with diversity (Werz, 2001).
Clearly, then, there is much to be considered when studying the current situation in Europe, but it is difficult to keep track of what is taking place at various levels throughout the region. In their book, European Constitutionalism beyond the State, Weiler and Wind (2003) report that, "The pace of change in European public discourse has been dizzying. At the beginning of the last decade, in the heady days before Maastricht, the Socialists and the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament were poised to divide the reporting spoils - such as they were then - between themselves. The two big prizes were the report to be presented as Parliament' input into the Maastricht process and the grand project, dating back to Spinelli' Draft Treaty, of writing a constitution for Europe" (p. 1). At that time, the Socialist party enjoyed the majority and the right of first choice; Weiler and Wind note that they chose Maastricht and rightly so. Today, though, the debate has moved from "Does Europe need a constitution?" (Grimm, 1994, p. 37 cited by Weiler & Wind at p. 2) to, "What should be in the new European Constitution? A list of competences? A Constitutional Court? A reconfigured Council with a president? An elected president? et cetera." (Weiler & Wind, 2003, p. 2). Not surprisingly, the heated debates and national referendums have also been fuelled, in a very typical European fashion, by a political agenda (enlargement) and timetable (the Intergovernmental Conference (Weiler & Wind, 2003, p. 2).
The ratification process for the Constitution of Europe, though, ground to a virtual halt in 2005 (Helm, 2006). Originally, the constitution was established through a European Union treaty signed in Rome in 2004 and was intended to make a community originally designed for six founding members in the 1950s more workable with a membership of 25 disparate countries. Governments that were faced with selling the document to a heavily skeptical electorate, such as that in the U.K., claimed that the treaty did not amount to a large extension of the EU's powers and was little more than a "tidying-up exercise." Meanwhile, many pro-integration political leaders in France and Germany billed it as a significant move toward the full "political union" to which they had always aspired. The document, which would supersede all previous community treaties (except the so-called Euratom Treaty, which established the European Atomic Energy Community), contained several significant -- "and highly controversial -- "changes to the structure and functioning of the 25-member European Union (Helm, 2006).
The constitution was established through a European Union treaty signed in Rome in 2004 and was intended to make a community originally designed for six founding members in the 1950s more workable with a membership of 25 countries with wide-ranging and sometimes disparate interests. Governments that were faced with selling the document to a heavily skeptical electorate, such as that in the U.K., claimed that the treaty did not amount to a large extension of the EU's powers and was little more than a "tidying-up exercise." At the same time, a number of advocates of further European integration, including various political leaders in France and Germany, characterized the initiative as being a substantive move toward the full "political union" that has been promoted in recent years (Helm, 2006). The proposed European Constitution would in fact supersede all previous community treaties (except the so-called Euratom Treaty, which established the European Atomic Energy Community), but it contained several significant -- "and highly controversial -- "changes to the structure and functioning of the 25-member European Union (Helm, 2006).
The constitution would introduce fundamental changes in the way that EU members voted on European issues so that majority voting -- "where no one country could block a decision -- "would become the norm. A qualified majority would consist of "at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union." The national veto would disappear in 39 policy areas, including sensitive matters such as justice and home affairs. In an effort to achieve better management of EU business and improve continuity in policy making, the document called for the creation of the post of EU president, who would be voted in by the heads of governments for a period of up to five years (Helm, 2006).
The president replaced the system of rotating presidencies, under which member states took turns chairing EU meetings and coordinating business for six-month terms. An EU foreign minister would be chosen by national governments for up to five years. The foreign minister would have his or her own supporting diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, and would represent the EU's interests in foreign affairs -- "for example, in official dealings with the UN. A formal Charter of Fundamental Rights was incorporated into the constitution and given legal force. It stated: "Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or…[continue]
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