Created in the aftermath of the Treaty of Nice, the Convention on the future of Europe aims to form a new European Constitution for the European Union in time for the accession of new member states in 2004. The final report is due to be published in June 2003 in time for an EU Summit in Greece. If all goes to plan, then a treaty could be prepared for signing in May 2004, during the Italian presidency, making a new Treaty of Rome, which is what set up the European Community.

Why does the EU need it?

The European Union was initially founded with 6 member states. It now has 15 and next year this will grow to 25. So far, all this has happened without major structural changes to the European Union. Quite how the convention is presented depends on the presenter. For example, one excuse for it is to "streamline" the organisation of the EU and to cut down on bureaucracy. Another is the integration of the various EU treaties into one document. Others see it as an attempt to form a European super state by which France can enforce their tyranny across the world.

Who's in it?

There are 108 members of the convention. These represent:

The President of the convention is Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a former French President. The two vice-presidents are both former Prime Ministers: Giuliano Amato from Italy and Jean-Luc Dehaene of Belgium1.

What is it talking about?

The areas that the convention should discuss were decided at the Laeken summit:

  • The division of responsibilities between the EU and member states.
  • Simplification of European treaties to make them more accessible and transparent.
  • The role of national parliaments in the union.
  • The legal status of the European Charter for Fundamental Rights.

What has it suggested?2

Nomenclature
It has been suggested that the EU be renamed something along the lines of the United States of Europe and that the constitution refer to a "federal system". Euro-sceptics claim this is a clear sign of the institution of an evil super state. Pro-Europeans see the word as meaning what the European Union actually is. So far, the convention has stopped short of using the word "federal" and instead refers to a "community method". The USE idea has also been shelved.
A President of Europe
A "powerful figurehead" for the European Union, representing whatever it is meant to stand for. This idea appears to be going forward despite opposition by small states. However, under current proposals, the President will not be directly elected by European citizens but instead by the leaders of EU states.
A European Foreign Minister
This appears to be a bit pipe dream since the divisions over Gulf War II but European federalists want to have the EU speak as one voice on the international scene. It is suggested that a foreign minister be elected by similar procedures as the president mentioned above and that member states "actively and unreservedly support the union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity".
Ultimately, such a policy may lead to a European seat in organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the U.N. Security Council. However, that is unlikely to happen especially due to the belligerence of the two countries already intimately involved in the latter.
Majority voting
At the moment in order for something to be passed in the EU, everyone has to agree to it. As the EU grows, the chances of unanimity shrink so some have called for the introduction of qualified majority as the default method voting for legislation. Although this system is currently used in some cases, it is not widespread. This effectively removes the veto on legislation held by every member state.
Exclusion of non-euro states from euro-related policy
Since the introduction of the Euro there has been a growing divide between those who are in and those who are not. Those who are in tend to believe that those who are out should not have an influence on Euro-related policy.
Criminal Prosecution
The idea of a supranational European public prosecutor was rejected during the negotiations of the Nice Treaty but the European Commission has again suggested it. Such a post would largely involve the prosecution of those responsible for cross-border fraud. Opponents of the concept argue that it would remove the accountability of criminal prosecution to national parliaments.

1I am aware that reads a bit like an introduction to some kind of international Blind Date. I apologise.
2The proposals written here have a UK-related bias because that's where I live. Sorry. Also, what it suggests is subject to change because that's what politicians are like.

Sources:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1840926.stm
"Britain rejects EU prosecutor", The Times, May 23, 2003
http://politics.guardian.co.uk/eu/story/0,9061,960023,00.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2937696.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/eu/story/0,7369,963660,00.html
"Giscard offers Blair concessions - but disputes continue", The Independent, May 26, 2003

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