The Treaty of Nice was signed on 26 February 2001. All the Member States were required to ratify the Treaty by their respective legislative procedures for it to become law. The Treaty was expected to come into force by the end of 2002. In the event, it came into force on 1 February 2003 owing to the difficulties Ireland had in passing the Treaty.
The Republic of Ireland was the only Member State required to hold a referendum on the Treaty. The result of the first referendum, held on 7 June 2001, was a rejection of the Treaty. In theory, this meant that the Treaty was void and could not become law. Even if this had been the case, the individual parts of the Treaty are important, showing the anticipated structures of the institutions for the future of the European Union. Ireland held a second referendum on 19 October 2002, and the Treaty was accepted.
Under the terms of a declaration attached to the Treaty of Nice, there will be a new European treaty in 2004; if Nice had not been ratified, it was likely that individual sections in that treaty would form the basis of the new treaty. The process leading up to the new treaty has developed into the Convention, which in turn has produced the Draft Constitution. The BMDF book on this has been published in October 2003 and covers the details of this - see 'An analysis of the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe'
The European treaties, taken together, form the primary legislation and are in effect the "constitution" of the Community; they provide the legal basis for all secondary legislation - regulations, directives and decisions - made by the institutions of the Community. Essentially, the Treaties produce obligations for the Member States and rights for individuals. This relationship has developed to encompass the concept of the European Union as being an area of security for individuals and legal persons.
The structure and the provisions of the combined treaties are becoming increasingly complex, with Nice being the seventh European treaty since 1951. As each treaty becomes law, it is incorporated into the existing treaties, which together form the consolidated Treaty on European Union.
The Treaty of Nice is, however, not an entity in its own right and it follows the format of the previous Treaties (the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Amsterdam) in being a series of amendments and additions to the Treaty of Rome and as such is difficult to interpret and understand.