The Treaty of Nice was signed by European leaders on 26 February 2001 and came into force on 1 February 2003. It amended the Maastricht Treaty (or the Treaty on European Union) and the Treaty of Rome (or the Treaty establishing the European Community). The Treaty of Nice reformed the institutional structure of the European Union to withstand eastward expansion, a task which was originally intended to have been done by the Amsterdam Treaty, but failed to be addressed at the time.
The entrance into force of the treaty was in doubt for a time, after its initial rejection by Irish voters in a referendum in June 2001. This referendum result was reversed in a subsequent referendum held a little over a year later.
Provisions of the treaty
The Nice Treaty was attacked by many people as a flawed compromise. Germany had demanded that its greater population be reflected in a higher vote weighting in the Council; this was opposed by France, who insisted that the symbolic parity between France and Germany be maintained. One proposal made by many, which would have greatly simplified the current system, was to introduce a double majority of both member states and population, to replace the current Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) system. This was also rejected by France for similar reasons. A compromise was reached, which provided for a double majority of Member States and votes cast, and in which a Member State could optionally request verification that the countries voting in favour represented a sufficient proportion of the Union's population.
The Treaty provided for an increase after enlargement of the number of seats in the European Parliament to 732, which exceeded the cap established by the Treaty of Amsterdam.
The question of a reduction in the size of the European Commission after enlargement was resolved to a degree — the Treaty providing that once the number of Member States reached 27, the number of Commissioners appointed in the subsequent Commission would be reduced by the Council to below 27, but without actually specifying the target of that reduction. As a transitional measure it specified that after 1 January 2005, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain would each give up their second Commissioner.
The Treaty provided for the creation of subsidiary courts below the European Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance to deal with special areas of law such as patents.
The Treaty of Nice provides for new rules on closer co-operation, the rules introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam being viewed as unworkable, and hence these rules have not yet been used.
In response to the failed sanctions against Austria following a coalition including Jörg Haider's party having come to power, and fears about possible future threats to the stability of the new member states to be admitted in enlargement, the Treaty of Nice for the first time adopted formal rules for the application of sanctions against a Member State.
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