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Monday, 11 December, 2000, 15:02 GMT
Nice summit: Q&A

As the Nice summit comes to a close with Prime Minister Tony Blair hailing the event as a success, News Online takes a glance at what it all means.

What exactly happened in Nice ? A meeting of the leaders of the member countries of the European Union in which a new treaty deal was agreed.

What is the significance? It is said to be the most significant treaty since the original Treaty of Rome as it provides for the expansion of EU to incorporate former communist countries such as Poland. And it may boost the total number of EU member states from 15 to 27.

Why is that happening? Existing member states are capitalising on the collapse of communism in the former eastern bloc states of Europe in the hope of extending the peace and stability forged in western Europe after the second world war.

Why now? There is a political appetite for expansion in the EU and around a dozen countries are queuing up to join.

Why Nice? France currently holds the rotating EU presidency and chose the Riviera resort to host the meeting involving the 15 EU leaders.

Was it a successful summit? Tony Blair says so and other European leaders have expressed optimism that they have agreed the necessary reforms to enlarge the EU.

What did they decide? A more streamlined decision-making system to avoid complete paralysis when the EU almost doubles in size. One of the results is increased influence for the bigger member states including the UK, Germany, France and Italy.

The Nice deal rolls back the ability of member states to use the veto. Many more decisions will be made by qualified majority voting, speeding up the process.

But hasn't Britain been keen to keep its veto? True, but the prime minister has secured UK's retention of the veto in the areas of tax and social security. The government will argue that concessions will benefit the country as it will speed-up EU decision making.

In how many areas have we lost the veto? Depends on the interpretation of relevant treaty articles but probably between 23 and 39. Eurosceptics say the Nice treaty represents a further loss of sovereignty for the UK.

How about this reweighting of voting strengths? Every country has been allocated a number of voting points based largely on population size. The UK, Germany, France and Italy now have the highest number with 29 points each. Future member Malta will get just three.

How do the smaller countries feel about that? They argue that the system is rigged in favour of big countries which is why, in part, the talks dragged on so long as they fought their corner.

Any other developments? The number of EU commissioners will be reduced from two to one per member state by 2005 and after enlargement there will eventually be more countries than commissioners.

What will that mean? All countries will take turns not to have a commissioner.

Any other business? There was a deal on "enhanced co-operation" which will allow some member states to join together to act on certain policy areas without the co-operation of the rest of the EU. The motivation behind that is to avoid difficulties over joint action where some countries object.

Mr Blair was worried that "enhanced co-operation" would mean a two-speed Europe, but he is now happy that the system allows anyone to opt in or out of any piece of "enhanced co-operation" if they wish.

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