A convention, or conventional preparations? The European Union and the IGC 2004

October 10, 2005 - nr.24

Preconditions for a smoothly functioning convention

All this means that the decision-making process on the preparatory convention for the IGC 2004 has already advanced considerably. The AIV shares some of the Council’s views, for instance as regards the composition of the convention (four groups, as at the convention for the Charter of Fundamental Rights). However, the AIV is unable to share other views expressed by the Council, for example concerning the period to elapse between the end of the convention and the start of the IGC, the chair and the deputy chairs, and consensus. The AIV has drawn up alternatives to these and has also laid down other conditions – for example, regarding the degree of “linkage” between decisions reached at the convention and the IGC.

The AIV emphasises its conviction that decisions at the IGC 2004 should ultimately be taken by the Member States. However, governments’ wish to increase public support and legitimacy is at odds with their wish to keep control of the decision-making process. In any case, governments should not be able to use a convention as a mere token, reducing it to a pseudo-participatory structure whose effective value is nil, since the final decisions will be reached by a classic IGC which is free to disregard the convention’s proposals. Far from increasing support for European cooperation, exploiting a convention in this way would actually reduce it.

Consequently, the AIV believes that the convention must have authority, since a convention that ultimately has no say in things will not attract the delegates it needs and will therefore not produce the desired results, with the concomitant risk that it will then be taken less seriously by governments. The AIV therefore feels there should be a clear “linkage” between the convention and the IGC. This will make decision-making more transparent, will bring political considerations out into the open, and will force decision-makers to account for the choices they make. This in turn will help generate greater legitimacy and support for the decisions ultimately taken by the IGC, and hence for the further development of the European Union.

The AIV also believes, given the composition and political authority of the convention, that it should be able to make its own decisions about its organisation and working procedures. The AIV is therefore in favour of letting the convention elect its own chair, as did the convention for the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If the chair is nonetheless appointed by the Laeken European Council, as the incumbent Council president Verhofstadt has indicated, the AIV points out that the chair will then have been elected by governments rather than by the four groups that make up the convention. In that case, the AIV believes governments must ensure that whoever they appoint is someone of sufficient standing to guarantee the independent emergence of opinions and ideas at the convention.

What is also clear is that any such “linkage” can only be based on proposals that enjoy the broad-based support of the convention. It is the praesidium’s task to establish the existence of such support. The consensus rule should not be applied. Pursuit of consensus in such a deliberately varied group of people could lead to endless negotiations whose outcome would probably be less than inspiring. Naturally, this will depend on the mandate the convention has been given. The AIV considers that broadbased support expressed at a meeting attended by representatives of all four groups is a sufficient basis for formulating authoritative proposals. The existence of such support must be established by the praesidium and substantiated when formulating the proposals. The AIV has deliberately referred to proposals, as it very much believes this is what the preparatory convention should submit. Only if there is no broad-based support for proposals should the convention submit options – something the AIV considers a last resort. There should be clear rules about attendance, so that it is possible to determine whether all four groups are represented and also if there is a quorum. A detailed package of procedural agreements and rules is not necessary, and moreover is not in keeping with the open exchange and emergence of ideas that are so characteristic of the convention model, and are indeed one of its most attractive features.

At the same time, the AIV believes that, if the convention is to have authority over the IGC, not too much time should be allowed to elapse between the end of the convention and the start of the IGC. Nor should Member States set up a separate preparatory group alongside or after the convention. If they nevertheless decide to do so, it should be done in a way that is compatible with the outcome of the convention. Such preparations should not take longer than four months. The AIV considers the one-year period favoured by many Member States too long. It also believes that any preparatory group set up after the convention should in any case include representatives of the European Parliament and above all the European Commission.
The AIV reiterates its view that ultimate responsibility for decisions must, of course, continue to be vested where it belongs, namely with the holders of political office in the Member States who are accountable for the decisions reached. The AIV is aware that any “linkage” between the convention and the IGC may blur the separation of powers and that confusion may arise as to the respective roles of those responsible for preparing the IGC, taking decisions and monitoring the process. On the other hand, the convention model gives delegates – particularly members of parliament and the Commission – an opportunity to exert more influence than usual on the further development of the European Union. Given the importance of this to present and future Member States (and therefore also the Netherlands), the AIV is convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks. In any case, government representatives will continue to bear ultimate responsibility for the decisions reached, and members of national parliaments will still be able to monitor their decisions.

The AIV is in favour of the IGC 2004 being prepared by a convention. In the light of the foregoing, the AIV sets out below a number of conditions which it recommends should be satisfied by the convention in order to ensure that the IGC 2004 is properly prepared and runs smoothly.

  1. As envisaged by the General Affairs Council, the convention comprises the same four groups as the convention for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, i.e. representatives of governments, the European Commission, national parliaments, and the European Parliament.
  2. The candidate Member States are granted observer status, since the topics to be discussed concern a shared future.
  3. As in the convention for the Charter of Fundamental Rights, all four component groups are represented on the praesidium that presides over the convention. The permanent chair of the convention, who will direct the meetings, is someone of international standing and a political authority. The delegates elect the chair from among their number. The three deputy chairs on the praesidium come from the three groups that do not provide the chair.
  4. The convention agenda includes the four topics indicated in the Declaration of Nice, as well as topics to be added by the ministers.1 However, the convention need not confine itself to these topics.
  5. In cases where the praesidium establishes the existence of broad-based support, proposals are made. Otherwise, options can be submitted. The extent of the support established by the praesidium is substantiated in the final report to the IGC.
  6. The convention reports to the IGC early enough to allow the latter a reasonable preparatory period. This period should not exceed four months. The final report by the convention is not submitted to a group or groups of experts for approval. The convention decides whether, and if so how often, it will submit interim reports to the Council.
  7. Whenever the IGC does not adopt, or deviates from, proposals or options submitted by the convention, the chair of the IGC shall be required to give an account of this to the European Parliament.
  8. The convention has its own secretariat, consisting of staff of the Council Secretariat and the European Commission.
  9. The convention decides for itself how civil society organisations are to be heard. It takes every opportunity to hear the views of civil society and involve it in the debate.
  10. Discussions and documents are public.
  11. The convention is able to appoint groups of experts or “wise men” to prepare parts of the agenda. This may prove crucial to its success. The European Commission plays its designated role in groups of experts.

1 In an additional advisory report the AIV will recommend the topics it feels should be added to the four mentioned in the Declaration for the Final Act of the Treaty of Nice.

Advice request

The Hague, 13 June 2001

To the Acting Chair of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
Prof. F.H.J.J. Andriessen
PO Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague


Subject: Request for an advisory report on the working method for the IGC 2004


The House of Representatives of the States General, on the recommendation of the general commission on European affairs, requests you on the grounds of article 17 of the Law on Advisory Boards, to give advice on the following.

The House of Representatives has observed that the working method of the IGC-2000 has led to dissatisfaction with some member states. The European Commission plays an important role in the preparation of and the negotiations during an IGC. At the moment a discussion is going on with regard to the organization of the IGC-2004, with some voicing the opinion that this IGC should be organized differently than the IGC-2000. Both the method used in drawing up the Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Convention model) as well as the Intergovernmental Conference 2000 model (Treaty of Nice) are discussed as possible working methods for the upcoming IGC. The role in this of the European Commission is not clear.

The House of Representatives therefore requests the Adisory Council on International Affairs to advise it on the following questions:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the 'Convention model' and what is the role of the European Commission in this model?
  • Is the Convention model applicable to an IGC? What could be the consequences of this, choice?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the working method used for the IGC- 2000? And what was the role of the European Commission in it?
  • Are other models conceivable than the Convention model or the IGC-2000 method (is for example a Commission of Wise Men a realistic option) for the IGC-2004? What advantages and disadvantages would this entail? And what would then be the role of the European Commission?

The House of Representatives would appreciate it if the advisory report would be available within a period of six months.


The Chairman of the House of Representatives
of the States General,

F.W. Weisglas
(acting Chairman)

Government reactions

This advisory report was requested by the House of Representatives of the States General, therefore a governmental reaction cannot be expected.

Press releases

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