The Nice Treaty: Reforming European Union Institutions in Anticipation of Eastern Enlargements
- Finn LaursenFinn LaursenHonorary Professor, University of Southern Denmark
The Nice Treaty negotiated during the year 2000, signed in 2001 and in force from 2003, focused on institutional changes considered necessary, especially by the larger member states, for the anticipated large enlargement of the European Union with several central and eastern European countries. Efforts to adopt such changes in the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations in 1996–1997 had failed. The Nice Treaty therefore dealt with what was known as the “Amsterdam leftovers,” namely size and composition of the European Commission, reweighting of votes in the Council of Ministers, and increased use of qualified majority voting in the Council. Concerning the reweighting of votes the intergovernmental conference agreed to increase the number of votes per member state, but the larger member states got a relatively larger increase that the smaller member states. This should make it more difficult for the smaller member states to dominate in the future, something feared by the larger states.
Concerning the Commission, it was decided that each member state would nominate one commissioner in the future from January 1, 2005. When the membership of the union reached 27 the size would have to be reduced. How much and how would be decided later.
Concerning the use of qualified majority voting the decision was to extend the use to some policy areas from the entry into force of the new treaty and for some policy areas considered more controversial the extension would take place later. For the most controversial areas no extension to qualified majority voting was considered.
During the intergovernmental conference, which negotiated the new treaty, the topic of “enhanced cooperation” was added. Most of these topics were quite controversial, and afterward there was a feeling that the treaty did not adequately deal with all the issues. This in turn led to further efforts to improve the institutions, first in the failed Constitutional Treaty (2004) and eventually in the successful Lisbon Treaty (2007).