The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE), (commonly referred to as the European Constitution or as the Constitutional Treaty), was an unratified international treaty intended to create a consolidated constitution for the European Union (EU). It would have replaced the existing European Union treaties with a single text, given legal force to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and expanded Qualified Majority Voting into policy areas which had previously been decided by unanimity among member states.
The Treaty was signed on 29 October 2004 by representatives of the then 25 member states of the European Union. It was later ratified by 18 member states, which included referendums endorsing it in Spain and Luxembourg. However the rejection of the document by French and Dutch voters in May and June 2005 brought the ratification process to an end.
Following a period of reflection, the Treaty of Lisbon was created to replace the Constitutional Treaty. This contained many of the changes that were originally placed in the Constitutional Treaty but was formulated as amendments to the existing treaties. Signed on 13 December 2007, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009.
The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed in Rome on 29 October 2004 by 53 senior political figures from the 25 member states of the European Union. In most cases heads of state designated plenipotentiaries to sign the treaty, but some presidents also signed on behalf of states which were republics. Most designated plenipotentiaries were prime ministers and foreign ministers.
On 12 January 2005 the European Parliament voted a legally non-binding resolution in support of the Constitution by 500 votes in favour to 137 votes against, with 40 abstentions.
Before an EU treaty can enter into force, it must be ratified by all member states. Ratification takes different forms in each country, depending on its traditions, constitutional arrangements and political processes. Most member states ratify EU treaties following parliamentary votes, while some — notably Ireland and Denmark — sometimes hold referendums. As a reaction to what was seen as the novel nature of the Constitution, many advocates and opponents of the Constitution argued that it should be subjected to referendums across the European Union.
On 20 April 2004 then British prime minister Tony Blair unexpectedly announced an intention to hold a referendum, a proposal which he had previously rejected. A further seven member states announced or had already announced that they would hold referendums on the Constitution, these being Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.
Spain was the first country to hold a referendum on the Constitution. On 20 February 2005, Spanish voters backed the treaty with 76% voting in favour to 24% against, on a turnout of 43%.
On 29 May 2005 the French public rejected the Constitution by margin of 55% to 45% on a turnout of 69%. Just three days later, the Dutch rejected the constitution by a margin of 61% to 39% on a turnout of 62%.
Notwithstanding the rejection in France and the Netherlands, Luxembourg held a referendum on 10 July 2005 approving the Constitution by 57% to 43%. It was the last referendum to be held on the Constitution as all of the other member states that had proposed to hold referendums cancelled them.
After the French and Dutch referendum results European leaders decided to hold a “period of reflection” on what to do next. As part of this reflection period a “group of wise men” was set up to consider possible courses of action. This group of high-level European politicians – former prime ministers, ministers and members of the European Commission – first met on 30 September 2006 in Rome.
On 4 June 2007, this group, known as the Amato Group, presented its report. They proposed to establish a new Inter-Governmental Conference with a view to writing a new treaty which would rewrite the Maastricht Treaty, amend the Treaty of Rome and give the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union a legally binding status. The new treaty would be based on the first and fourth parts of the Constitution, the rest of the Constitution’s changes being achieved through amendments to the Treaty of Rome.
In the June 2007 European summit meeting, Member States agreed to abandon the constitution and to amend the existing treaties, which would remain in force. They also agreed a detailed mandate for a new intergovernmental conference to negotiate a new treaty containing such amendments to the existing treaties (primarily the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Maastricht). These negotiations were completed by the end of the year. The new treaty, which had previously been referred to as the Reform Treaty, became the Lisbon Treaty on its signing in Lisbon on 13 December 2007.