The Government is pleased with the outline of the reform treaty that was agreed at last month's European Council meeting. The reform treaty will amend the existing treaties in various ways so as to create a more efficient and effective Union that can better serve Europe's future needs.
Our principal objective going into these negotiations was to retain the substance and balance of the draft constitutional treaty that was agreed during the Irish Presidency in June 2004. This objective was largely achieved in that the great bulk of the 2004 agreement will be incorporated in the reform treaty when it is finalised later this year.
In the wake of the referendum results in France and the Netherlands, it was necessary to make certain changes to what had been agreed in 2004. The changes decided on at the recent European Council included dropping the constitutional title and the removal of references to the EU flag and anthem, although these will, of course, continue to be widely used throughout the Union. Moreover, the charter of fundamental rights has been taken out of the treaty, but will retain its legally-binding status. National parliaments have been given an enhanced role in the Union's legislative process.
There will be an opt-in/opt-out arrangement for the UK in the field of criminal and police co-operation. We will need to decide in the coming months whether to join that arrangement. Although the double majority voting system will not come into use until 2014, the overall institutional package from the 2004 agreement has not been reopened. This was a key requirement of ours throughout these negotiations. Ireland also succeeded in getting agreement to include commitments on combating climate change in the new treaty.
As regards the charter, the Government wanted it to be incorporated in the reform treaty, but this was opposed by a number of member states. We are happy that its legal standing will be confirmed in the new treaty. In our view, the text of the charter itself and the wording to be included in the treaty adequately define the scope and application of the charter.
At a very late stage in the negotiations, the UK delegation introduced a protocol which seeks to clarify the application of the charter as regards its own national laws. While we have no difficulty with the charter and do not believe that such clarification is required in our case, we nevertheless considered it prudent to look for an opportunity to study the implications of the protocol for the charter and its application.