Nice, France; 11 December 2000 (RFE/RL) - EU leaders today approved a reform EU treaty, paving the way for the eastward enlargement of the 15-member bloc. Final approval of the Treaty of Nice is expected from the members' national parliaments by the end of 2002. EU leaders have expressed the hope that the first candidate states would be admitted by 2004. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin of France, which currently holds the EU presidency, said the accord opens the way to enlargement.
"This is an agreement that opens the way to enlargement and sets out the strategy for it. And had we not succeeded this morning -- at the same time both too late and too early -- then this would have been very bad news for the countries waiting for enlargement."
The toughest aspect of negotiations at the summit talks in Nice was the reweighting of votes on the Council of Ministers. Under the new agreement, the big states in the EU -- Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- will remain at parity with 29 votes each. Spain and EU applicant Poland, once it gets in, will get 27 votes each. The total number of votes on the council is 342.
It was also agreed to decrease the use of national vetoes, which have often slowed EU decision making. But the national veto remained for some key issues, including tax issues, immigration and asylum policies. Earlier during the marathon talks, the leaders agreed on streamlining the European Commission -- the union's executive body -- to guarantee each member state one commissioner as of 2005. At present, the five largest states get two commissioners and the small states get one.
The European Union has agreed on a simpler method of dealing with member states that fail to live up to EU values.
The issue arose after 14 EU members froze diplomatic relations with fellow member Austria earlier this year over the inclusion of the far-right Freedom party in the government. The sanctions were lifted in September. Under the new agreement, one-third of member states can request monitoring of another state failing to live up to EU values of democracy and human rights. Monitoring would be triggered once other EU ministers backed it with a nine-tenths majority.
Previously, any sanctions required a unanimous vote, allowing the wayward nation to block any moves against it.
The five-day Nice summit set a new EU record by being longer than any such meeting in the bloc's 43-year history.