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Lisbon Treaty enters into force: a brave new Europe is born?

02 Dec 2009


With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the European Union can finally close the lengthy saga of institutional reform, at least for the foreseeable future. No doubt further amendments to the Union’s rulebook will be required at some point in the future, but for now, the process initiated by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 and followed by the Nice Treaty of 2002 and the constitutional treaty of 2004, has ended. 

During the signing ceremony of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, optimistically stated, “in this old continent, a new Europe is born”. Two years later, following a bumpy ratification process (not least of all in Ireland and in the Czech Republic), perhaps President Barroso’s statement should be rephrased as a question: does the Lisbon Treaty move the European Union in the direction aspired to in the Treaty itself, that is “enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union” and “improving the coherence of its action”. In short, has a new European Union been born? 

The cop-out answer is, “wait and see”, because although the Lisbon Treaty puts in place a number of immediate reforms (see below), the implementation of the Treaty will depend upon the strengths and weaknesses of the political process.  

The reforms contained in the Lisbon Treaty do not radically overhaul the Union’s institutional framework or decision-making process. And the choice of Catherine Ashton and Herman Van Rompuy to fill two key new posts created by the Lisbon Treaty has been almost universally criticised in the European media as showing just how the European project has been renationalised at the expense of the so-called Community method. Timothy Garton-Ash, writing in The Guardian, emphasised this point, stating that “[t]he theatre of politics is all national and local, not European”. 

How the European Union will change with the Lisbon Treaty: 

  1. The European Council (a body composed of the leaders of the Member States, such as the Irish Taoiseach, the French President and the Swedish Prime Minister) becomes a formal EU institution – its role is to provide the EU with a political motor, driving forward its activities and defining its political goals. It will have an independent President, appointed by the presidents and prime ministers of the Member States for a term of office of two-and-a-half years, renewable once. The president will act as a consensus-builder and ‘umpire’ among these leaders.
  2. The European Parliament becomes an equal co-legislator with the Council of Ministers in the vast majority of cases. This applies notably to EU laws in the area of judicial and police cooperation and adoption of the EU budget. See here for a graphic on the EU decision-making process.
  3. The European Parliament will increase in size to 751 members. Although this change does not affect Ireland, it is important for a number of countries, such as Spain and Malta.
  4. Some EU competences (which are national powers delegated to the EU institutions but adopted by national governments and, where appropriate, by the European Parliament) are expanded, meaning the EU can work in a wider range of areas that before. This applies, for example, to international trade, energy policy, judicial and police cooperation, innovation policy and tourism.
  5. The EU’s foreign policy is given new institutions in an attempt to make it more coherent and relevant on the world stage. To this end, a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is created; a post which is based both in the Council of Ministers and in the European Commission so that EU foreign policy can become more coherent. To support the work of the High Representative, a network of EU ‘embassies’ will be created across the globe, called the European External Action Service (EEAS). The EEAS will be staffed by national diplomats, staff from the European Commission and from the Council of Ministers, in equal proportion.
  6. National parliaments will have a greater say in EU affairs, such as a power to contest draft EU laws that are considered unneccessary; a power to block changes from unanimous decision-making to majority decision-making in the Council of Ministers. The job of scrutinising EU activities, however, is something national parliaments will have to organise themselves. Some national parliaments are better at scrutiny than others. In Ireland, the main responsibility for scrutiny of EU affairs is carried out by the Joint Committee on European Affairs and by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny.
  7. The protection of human rights in EU law will be subject to two new texts. First, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which makes EU law subject to the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all Member States. Second, the EU will join the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which means that all EU institutions and its laws will be subject to the application of the ECHR. Ireland has been a member of the ECHR in its own right since 1953.
  8. European citizens will be able to propose EU laws through an instrument called the Citizens’ Initiative. This instrument, a type of direct democracy, allows at least one million citizens from across the EU Member States to submit proposals to the European Commission.
  9. EU defence policy remains subject to national vetoes, except in a limited number of areas such as the decision to create permanent structured cooperation (a type of ‘enhanced cooperation’ that allows a group of Member States to work closely and share burdens in military matters). The decision to initiate a European defence mission still requires a unanimous decision of national defence ministers.
  10. Social protection is present in a number of provisions, not only in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but also in the protection of services of general interest (i.e. public services), the provision for social dialogue (talks between trade unions and employers’ organisations) at EU level, and a number of clauses relating to equality between men and women and the prohibition of discrimination.
  11. A new voting system for decision-making among national governments on EU affairs will enter into force in 2014 or 2017 (the date depends on the Member States). The system removes the current ‘weighting’ of votes, whereby each Member State is given a number of votes. Presently, Ireland has 7 votes and Germany has 29 (the number of votes is based on the size of a country’s population). Under the new system, each Member State will have one vote each. For a decision to be passed, two criteria must be met: at least half of the Member States must be in favour of a proposal, and that half must represent at least 65% of the EU’s total population. To see how the system works in practice, see this calculator for voting in the Council of Ministers.
  12. The European Union becomes a single organisation: there will be no more European Community and no more pillar structure; just one organisation.

As an independent forum, the Institute does not express any opinions of its own. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author.

Comments 1-10 of 18

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practial approach says: 21 Dec 2011 22:58

@Rag and Bow, dude it is substantial, with a procedural impact

EFRAT says: 12 Dec 2011 15:22

I new this! the EU is becoming USSR - this people must read history to avoid the mistakes the other nations had made in the past. Feel sorry for Baltic countries: from USSR to European Single organisation! :( .

Eric Pollitt says: 04 Dec 2011 11:24

The results of the Lisbon treaty are there for all to see with its brazen dictatorship. Rest assured,the KGB are at work formulating the Moscow treaty

debax says: 09 Nov 2011 19:41

@rag&bow...won't be too hard for Richard to see this,if you ask me...lol

Debax says: 09 Nov 2011 16:26

@Rag and Bow,this page is off the first of Google results;quite sure it won't take Richard much to see this thread...lol

rag and bow says: 08 Nov 2011 16:05

hello everyone i have a course work question asking me to evaluate whether the differences between the treaty establishing the contitution for Europe and the Treaty of Lisbon are substantive or procedural

Popeyecpo says: 12 Sep 2011 5:04

Ditto's Thomas Paine

Popeyecpo says: 12 Sep 2011 5:02

The Franco/German banks and political machine has scored a bloodless coup and got what Hitler wanted without war. The American states have little or no power just the FED Gov, and soon Europe will have the same situation. The Gov shall be ran by a few LIMO Libs with all the money and power. The Statist Corporate?Bankster complex. Enjoy. Nigel Farage the new Churchill warned you!

rokag3 says: 11 Jun 2011 14:15

the 2 A explaint that our national parliament are useless for exclusive compétence and so called "shared competence" which mean as long as the EC do not care about you may decide! the 2 B and 2 C explain that we are slaves! it create an exception and explain that to go out of the banksters the unanimity is requested! The insurection then will be the only choice left for the européan to be free ! The bad then: the duty of insurection (1793)is not writen in lisbon treaty! The good : To shot the protesters is not consider as dealth pénalty!

Jane Pearce says: 01 Apr 2011 19:38

This is a travesty of everything that is fair and equitable. You may call me a European citizen but I will never be one in my heart or my head.

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