Treaty of nice

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The Treaty that was signed in Nice on 26 February 2001, only three years and a half after the signature of the Treaty of Amsterdam, did not aspire to give a fresh impetus to the European integration process, but only to prepare the institutions of the European Community/Union to function with the representatives of ten new Member States. The Treaty of Nice, which is actually the one in force, revised the Treaty of Amsterdam concerning mainly four institutional matters: the replacement of unanimity by qualified majority in decision-making procedures, the enhanced cooperation of some Member States, the weighting of votes in the Council and the size and the composition of the Commission.


The coming into force of the Treaty of Nice was initially held back by the negative result of a referendum of the Irish people, held on 11 June 2001, but the problem was resolved by the positive outcome of a second referendum, held on 19 October 2002. The Treaty of Nice, thus, came into force on 1 February 2003. Under the heading of the city in which it was signed, the Treaty of Nice, as the repealed Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, included in fact two Treaties: the Treaty on the European Union(TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC). As we will see in the next section, the treaty of Lisbon replaced the TEC by the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (TFEU).


On 7 December 2000 in Nice in the south of France, the Europe of 15 met. The heads of state and government were finalising preparations for the EU's future enlargement to the east, the south and the Baltic countries. In the end, it was four long days of very tense discussions. Fundamental reform was needed to prepare the European Union for enlargement. So that was what we were expecting, but it wasn't what happened. Everybody was expecting a big jump forward, because there was a euphoria about the new Member States. Representatives of the candidate countries also came, but they had no say. The Europe of 15 discussed their future without them. The Franco-German pairing in particular blocked negotiations. At issue was the weighting of states in the Council of Ministers. That is where the big decisions are made. The two leading figures - Mr Schröder, the Chancellor of Germany, and President Chirac -couldn't agree on one simple question, whether Germany after enlargement, with 82 million people and 20 million more than France, could have one symbolic vote more in the Council. But Chirac said no. After two days of extensions, the apparatus for welcoming the new Member States was at last defined. A new balance between the states was finally adopted, but it was still far too complex. You could see that this would not survive many years and it would have to be reformed. They really had to sit down and count and a three-quarters threshold was needed to get the result. Once the Council's future was settled, another question arose. How would the European Commission work? The solution of having a maximum of 27 Commissioners wasn't liked by all. We found a convoluted solution for the Commission which afterwards was never applied. The distribution of seats among MEPs was also revised in the Parliament in light of the future new arrivals. The functioning of the EU Court of Justice was simplified. Finally, the idea of a multi-speed Europe came a little closer with enhanced cooperation. On 26 February 2001, the Treaty of Nice was at last signed. The mechanism to allow the major enlargement of the EU was in place, but there was little enthusiasm. It was such a poor result that the heads of government themselves realised it at the time and started a new debate which would result in the Laeken Declaration and the Convention. Before the Treaty of Nice came into force, at the end of 2001, the 15 heads of state formed a working group to write a European Constitution. France and the Netherlands rejected it, but this constitution set out the markers for another major reform. That was the Treaty of Lisbon which came into force on 1 December 2009. It's a bit funny how with a mediocre and unsatisfying result there was then a pain and a push for a bigger thing. It took us 10 more years to come to an appropriate result. At a time when the European Union needed strengthening in order to integrate the new members, the European Union missed the opportunity.


The bitter debate among big and small countries for the re-weighting of vote in the Council, represented in the Iberian context by the struggle between Portugal and Spain, rose the greater tensions. Finally, a new re-weighting of vote for the current and the future member States was reached. This new distribution of power will come into force on 1 January 2005 in the case of current members. The new system gives 29 votes to the Four Big Countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy). In spite of the demographic imbalance, parity between France and Germany is maintained. Spain got 27 votes, the same as Poland when joining the Union. The rest of the countries got progressively less votes up to Malta, whose weight will be three votes in the Council.

A complicate system of majorities and minorities was set up. It provides three different ways to block any decision of the Council:

i. When the Union have 27 members, the whole number of votes of the Council will be 345. The threshold for the qualified majority is set at 255 and a minority of 88 votes would veto any resolution. That means that three big and one small countries will be always able to impede any decision.

ii. A simple majority of member States opposition will always prevent a decision from being passed by a qualified majority.

iii. Finally, a demographic verification clause was adopted to give more power to more populated Germany. To get a qualified majority is necessary that a proposal be endorsed at least by 62% of the Union's population. It means that Germany needs the support of two bignations to veto whatever decision. The rest of the big countries need the participation of all the four big to exercise the veto.

• Competences of the President of the European Commissionwere enhanced. Henceforth, he will be elected by qualified majority and his or her appointment will be ratified by the European Parliament.

• The subjects on a decision by qualified majority can be adopted increase (about forty, most of them technical ones). However, governments' veto is maintained in subjects that affected them in a high degree, such as cohesion (Spain), tax system (Britain), asylum and immigration (Germany) or free trade in cultural an audiovisual sphere (France).

• The possibility of a reinforced cooperation among member States in fields related to further integration was set up. Reinforced cooperation must meet some conditions:

i. At least, eight countries must participate to start this sort of closer cooperation.

ii. The following aspects are excluded of this possibility: Community policies, affairs related to Schengen, and anything else that affected the common market, defence and weapon industry affairs .


The Treaty of Nice was therefore meant to make the EU institutions more efficient and legitimate and to prepare the EU for its next major enlargement.


The Treaty of Nice extended the qualified majority voting to new subjects, thereby boosting the role of the European Parliament in the co-decision procedure with the Council. It reinforced and facilitated the enhanced cooperation of some Member States, in cases where an agreement cannot be reached by normal decision-making procedures. The Protocol on the enlargement of the European Union, adopted at Nice, redefined the weighting of the votes of each Member State in the Council and introduced a population element by specifying that decisions taken by qualified majority on the basis of a Commission proposal should gather at least 72% of the total votes of the members, representing at least 62% of the total population of the Union.


• The European Parliament will consist of 732 seats, instead of current 626. Germany will elect 99 MPs, the rest of the big countries 72, Spain and Poland 50. Seats in the Parliament have been used to make up for disparities in the re-weighting of votes in the Council.

• In 2005, countries that currently have two commissioners (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Europe) will have one. When the Union be composed by 27 members, a definitive number of commissioners will be unanimously decided. The number will be inferior to 27 and will be set up a a fair system of rotation that balance the composition of the Commission, taking into account the different demographic weight of the countries and the diverse geographic areas of our continent. On this subject, one of the main battlefields between big and small countries, a definitive solution was not reached, although the features of a future agreement were outlined.

• Despite the major parties campaigning for the YES, Irish people said NO in the referendum held on the Treaty of Nice in June 2001.


A second treaty, the Treaty of Nice, was signed in 2001 and entered into force on February 1, 2003. Negotiated in preparation for the admission of new members from Eastern Europe, it contained major reforms. The maximum number of seats on the Commission was set at 27, the number of commissioners appointed by members was made the same at one each, and the president of the Commission was given greater independence from national governments. Qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers was extended to several new areas. Approval of legislation by qualified voting required the support of members representing at least 62 percent of the EU population and either the support of a majority of members or a super majority of votes cast. Although national vetoes remained in areas such as taxation and social policy, countries choosing to pursue further integration in limited areas were not precluded from doing so.