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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 11:23 GMT
Big changes ahead for EU
The Royal Castle at Laeken
Laeken kicks off a process of reconstruction
The Laeken summit has launched another big attempt to restructure the European Union.

There are two main goals - to make the EU more efficient, as it gets larger and takes on new roles, and to bring it closer to the people.

It could result in a European constitution, and an elected EU president - though any changes will have to be agreed by all member states, including those historically cautious about integration.

The reform process was set in motion at the Nice summit last year, which issued a declaration calling for a deep and wide debate on the EU's future, mentioning four issues in particular:

  • A more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and the Member States
  • The status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is not yet enshrined in law
  • Simplification of the treaties with a view to making them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning
  • The role of national parliaments in the European architecture

The Nice declaration hinted that some functions could be taken from Brussels and returned to national, or even regional governments.

This was made even more explicit in the Laeken Declaration.

However, its likely that the net transfer of power will go the other way.

Convention

The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, has said the objective should be to propose reforms that promote "political, economic and social integration".

If the Union had confined itself to the policy areas it managed in the 1960s, he told the European Parliament, the current institutional framework would still be able to cope, but it had not.

"If you think about the problems of migratory flows, the stabilisation and development of the Balkans, the fight against terrorism and major organised crime and the management of economic globalisation, you will see what I mean," he said.

A declaration issued at Laeken posed dozens of questions that it wants the convention to consider

It will be made up of members of the European Commission, the European Parliament, and national governmnents and parliaments - including those of candidate countries.

The summit appointed former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing as the convention's president, and two other former prime ministers - Jean-Luc Dehaene of Belgium and Giuliano Amato of Italy - as vice-presidents.

Civil society

Beginning its work in March 2002, it will draw on the views and expertise of civil society, including non-governmental organisations, trade unions, and academics.

According to the Nice declaration it should finish its work, coming up with a proposal - or possibly two proposals, one stronger and one weaker - in time for a concluding inter-governmental conference in 2004.

It's not clear whether the conference will take place before or after the planned admission of 10 new members, which due in the same year.

Ultimately it is the decisions taken at the inter-governmental conference that will count.

The conference does not have to accept the convention's proposals, just as the convention does not have to follow the guidance of the Laeken Declaration.

See also:

11 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy U-turn on arrest warrant
05 Dec 01 | Europe
Greece threatens EU defence deal
18 Jun 01 | Europe
Analysis: Gothenburg's legacy
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
European Union
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