1) Why does Europe need a Reform Treaty?
The EU of 27 members is operating with rules designed for an EU of 15. It's getting harder to reach agreement when the unanimous approval of everyone is required. At the same time, there's increasing support in the UK and other member states for the EU to work together on issues that affect us all, such as climate change, energy security and international terrorism. As the EU has grown and its responsibilities have changed, it makes sense that the way in which it works should be overhauled. Much needed improvements delivered by the Treaty will include giving the EU the means to tackle today's challenges in today's world.
2) What did the European Summit in June 2007 agree and what's next?
The 27 EU Members agreed to a clear mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to finalise the details of a Reform Treaty by the end of this year. In addition to giving the EU the means to act more effectively in areas of joint concern, the mandate includes measures to streamline the EU's work such as a voting system designed to cater for an EU of 27 and a population of almost 500 million. The "double majority" system to be introduced from 2014 will require the agreement of 55% of member states (at least 15), representing 65% of the EU's population. Another proposed improvement is the creation of two positions to give the EU greater continuity and coherence in terms of its overall strategic approach and direction - a President to chair the European Council - and in terms of its external representation - an EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security policy (see below). The Treaty will also give the EU an appropriate legal framework ("legal personality") so it can represent member states effectively where they have agreed this should be the case. It was also decided that decision making should be done on the basis of a majority voting system for a wider range of issues than before, and that national parliaments should get improved scrutiny powers for EU legislation.
3) How does the Council President's role change?
This is not a Presidential role like that in the US and France. It's essentially a chairman of the board or "facilitator" for the Council. The role doesn't change under the Reform Treaty but someone will be appointed to serve for two and a half years instead of just six months as at present. There are no new powers, just greater coherence and consistency in managing the Council's priorities and its overall strategic approach and direction. The job will be filled in 2009 at the earliest.
4) What about the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy? Do these changes weaken the UK's ability to have an independent foreign policy?
This post does not create new powers but streamlines things by merging two existing roles, avoiding duplication and confusion. The jobs of the European Council foreign policy representative (currently Javier Solana) and the Commission's external relations Commissioner (currently Benita Ferraro-Waldner) will be combined. This will allow greater consistency between the work of the Commission and the member states in developing and presenting agreed foreign policy and external actions. The High Representative will act in foreign policy matters on the basis of decisions taken unanimously by the EU 27. S/he will complement not replace the foreign policy or diplomatic efforts of the UK or any other member state which will continue to operate in parallel. The position will be filled in 2009 at the earliest.
5) Will the UK lose its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council if the amending Treaty goes through?
No. The EU is not a party to the UN Charter and the Reform Treaty does not change that Charter in any way. Hence, the UK and France will continue to be Permanent Members of the Security Council.
6) Will the UK no longer have a veto?
The veto will be retained in many areas including tax, foreign policy and defence. The Reform Treaty moves a total of 45 matters to qualified majority voting (QMV), of which 21 cover new responsibilities and 24 involve decisions that were previously taken by unanimity. Even in these areas, the UK has secured opt-outs or opt-ins on matters which the UK Government identified as key concerns - for example, asylum, immigration and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In a number of areas the UK has concluded that it is very much in its interest to adopt a more streamlined approach to decision-making, including on issues to do with fighting climate change, energy security and emergency humanitarian aid to hot-spots around the globe. Some of the other changes address relatively uncontroversial issues like citizens' initiatives (allowing members of the public to suggest laws), diplomatic and consulate protection, and procedural matters.
7) Will the new Treaty affect UK employment laws such as the right to strike?
No. The legislative powers under the Reform Treaty do not apply to pay, the right of association, the right to strike or the right to impose lock-outs. The UK obtained a legally-binding commitment that the Charter of Fundamental Rights would not have any affect on UK law.
8) Does the new Treaty mean that national law becomes subordinate to EU law?
The Treaty will leave the current situation unchanged. In those areas where the UK has agreed to EU law (e.g. on the Single Market), this has primacy over national laws, as is always the case with any international treaty. It is in the UK's interest that this is the case as European law provides the UK government and its citizens with legal certainty across the EU, just as national laws provide such guarantees at a national level. How else can we ensure we all play by the same rules?
9) Does the Treaty undermine the EU by weakening the commitment to "free and undistorted competition"?
No. Competition policy is fundamental to the effective functioning of the single market. The European Commission obtained a legally-binding commitment re-iterating the European Commission's role and responsibility as the independent competition enforcement authority for the EU. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes underlined this, saying: "The Commission will continue to enforce Europe's competition rules firmly and fairly: to bust cartels and monopolies, to vet mergers, to control state subsidies".