Until now, the EU has been an association of states, deriving its authority from international treaties. Henceforth, it will be a state in its own right, drawing legitimacy from the constitution. “This constitution“, says Article I-5 “shall have primacy over the laws of the member states.”
Article I-6 gives the EU legal personality and an independent corporate existence separate from its members, allowing it to be treated as a state under international law.
The EU, not its member states, will sign treaties with other states in future. Ireland will remain a state in the sense that Bavaria is a state inside Germany, Massachusetts a state inside the USA, or Ontario a state inside Canada, but it will no longer be an independent international actor. It will have surrendered its political independence.
The constitution establishes a two-tier legal system, rather like the USA, with a federal law code sitting above state jurisdictions. It creates a European public prosecutor, a prosecuting magistracy and a federal police force.
It also harmonises civil proceedings and launches common policies on immigration and asylum. While some of these things already exist, they have hitherto had no legal basis in a state constitution.
The constitution lists the areas where Brussels will have either full or shared jurisdiction. These cover virtually every area: transport, trade, competition, agriculture, fisheries, justice, home affairs, space exploration, employment, social policy, foreign affairs, defence, immigration and asylum.
Where sovereignty is shared, the constitution states: “Member states shall exercise their competence to the extent that the union ceases to exercise, or chooses no longer to exercise, its competence.”
Article I-15 reads: “The common foreign and security policy shall cover all aspects of foreign policy and all questions relating to the union’s security. Member states shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly, in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity.”
The Nice treaty’s provision that the progressive framing of a common defence policy “might lead to a common defence, should the European council so decide” becomes “will lead to a common defence, when the European council, acting unanimously, so decides.“ The constitution creates a European foreign minister and diplomatic corps. It gives legal recognition to the EU’s fledgling military forces.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights is now made legally binding in all areas covered by EU law. That will make huge new areas of national life subject to European rulings, including family relations, employment rights, social policy and anti-discrimination law.
The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg becomes supreme over national constitutions and supreme courts, and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in such human rights matters. This adds another expensive tier of legal appeal for aggrieved citizens seeking to obtain their human rights.