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One State, One World

Constitutional Differences

In 2005, French and Dutch voters shocked the European establishment by rejecting a proposed European Union Constitution.

sticker that says no to the constitution in french

Photo: Tristan (Flickr)

The French and Dutch votes forced leaders to confront the high amounts of public distrust towards the EU.

In 2005, French and Dutch voters shocked the European establishment by rejecting a proposed European Union Constitution. These votes forced EU leaders to confront the high amounts of public distrust towards the EU.

A Confusing Start

From the beginning, the European Convention did not create a simple constitution that was a clearly defined contract between the EU and its citizens.

In its final form, the European Constitution was more than 300 pages long (the original U.S. Constitution was four pages long), and was written in a way that made it hard for anyone who was not an expert on the EU to understand.

In addition, while the Constitution would make the EU more democratic by strengthening the elected European Parliament, member states still had their qualms, wanting to guard their state powers.

For instance, suggestions that the EU would now have a president elected by all EU citizens were scrapped in favor of a president who would be chosen by the leaders of the member states.

One Major Obstacle

But the biggest downfall to the European Constitution was that all of the member states would need to ratify the Constitution according to their own national laws.

In the end, the Constitution was ratified by 18 of the 25 member states, including by national referendums in Spain and Luxembourg.

However, referendums in France in May 2005 and the Netherlands in June 2005 failed, bringing the ratification process to an end.

For the U.S. Constitution, only nine of the 13 states needed to ratify it and the Constitution would become the basic law of the land. Had the EU been able to apply that threshold for its constitution, the European Constitution would have survived.

Instead, European leaders began the process of writing the Reform Treaty (commonly known as the Treaty of Lisbon), which contained many of the less controversial aspects of the European Constitution in order for the EU to function with 27 or more members.

Again, all member states (by this time, there were 27 member states) had to ratify the treaty. The Lisbon Treaty was signed in December 2007.

Ratification was not without its controversies, however, as Ireland was forced to hold a second referendum, after Irish voters had voted down the treaty the first time. The treaty formally adopted on December 1, 2009.

 Learn More

This episode of One State One World is produced in partnership with the EU Center at Indiana University.

Read more about the European Union on the EU Center’s blog, Across the Pond.