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EU leaders sign new constitution
|October 29, 2004
| European Union leaders have signed the new EU constitution in a lavish ceremony held in Rome.
Heads of state and government took it in turn to sign the text in the same room where the Treaty of Rome was signed to establish the EU in 1957.
The ceremony came amid a row about the views of prospective Italian EU commissioner Rocco Buttiglione.
Incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has withdrawn his entire team and is now considering changes.
"We need more time so I can go back to some of the prime ministers, so that I can get better choices... I'm sure I can get a better team," he told reporters in Rome on Friday.
Support for Barroso
EU leaders voiced their backing for Mr Barroso "to form a Commission that can count on widespread support," Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said. His country currently holds the EU presidency.
The EU constitution
A devout Catholic, Mr Buttiglione has been scorned by MEPs opposed to his conservative views on homosexuality and the role of women in society.
The EU leaders at the ceremony were joined by the leaders of Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Croatia - the four countries moving towards EU accession.
The signing ceremony was held in the Renaissance splendour of the Campidoglio, the city hall inspired by Michelangelo in the centre of the capital's historic district.
'More democratic union'
Europe's leaders put on a united front, even though disunity over the European Commission line-up still threatens to plunge Europe into institutional chaos, the BBC's Tamsin Smith reports.
EU countries holding referendums
Q&A: Signing the new treaty
UK referendum in 'early 2006'
And the celebration of a treaty designed to bring Europe closer to the people took place behind a formidable police cordon, she says.
Up to 7,000 police and security forces were on Rome's streets to protect EU leaders, while a squadron of F-16 fighters enforced a no-fly zone over the city centre.
Mr Barroso said in a speech before the signing that the EU constitution would give birth to a "more democratic union", and urged the 25 member-states to ratify it without delay.
"I hope that tomorrow the national parliaments and European citizens will take responsibilities and approve this constitution, opening the way to a new union."
"More than ever, we now need perseverance, an unfailing will and total confidence in the future in order to overcome the challenges faced by the European Union."
Mr Barroso held informal talks with EU leaders during the event, to seek support for his planned changes to the commission.
The signing ceremony was a triumph for attention to detail, Tamsin Smith reports.
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Classic sculptures and Renaissance paintings were complemented by 30,000 Dutch flowers - a dazzling display of reds and yellows.
As dreamy music played in the background each leader and foreign minister stepped up in alphabetical country order to sign a giant tome. They shook hands with each other, with a beaming Mr Berlusconi, and then progressed along a line of dignitaries.
Each leader was then presented with a special platinum pen to keep after signing the treaty.
Despite the signing of the constitution, member nations still have to ratify the document individually before it comes into effect - either by referendum or parliamentary vote.
A number of countries, including France and the UK, will hold public votes, with the first vote expected to take place in Spain in February.
On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said a referendum on the EU constitution in the UK would take place "early in 2006" if the ruling Labour Party won a third term in office.
There is intense scepticism in the UK, while the outcome of the French vote is by no means certain, says the BBC's Tim Franks in Rome.
The constitution intends to make the union function more smoothly.
But plans for an EU president overseeing the co-operation between member states, and a change in the voting system, have caused divisions in EU states.
The new treaty also sees a big expansion in the number of policy areas where countries will lose their national veto, and includes the creation of a foreign minister's post.
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