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Revisions to the Treaties

INTRODUCTION

The revision of the founding Treaties is essential for the European Union (EU). It allows European legislation and policies to be adapted to new challenges that the EU has to face. Before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, there was only one procedure for the revision of the Treaties. This procedure required an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to be convened on a compulsory basis.

The Treaty of Lisbon relaxes the revision procedure whilst improving its attachment to fundamental social rights. It amends the ordinary revision procedure slightly by increasing the participation of the European Parliament and national Parliaments. Above all, the Treaty of Lisbon creates two types of simplified procedure in order to facilitate the revision of certain provisions of the Treaties.

Increased flexibility when revising the Treaties must, however, be put into perspective with respect to maintaining unanimous agreement as a voting rule. Thus, whichever procedure is undertaken, Member States must adopt the revision of the provisions concerned unanimously.

The revision procedures are described in Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union.

Ordinary revision procedure

The ordinary revision procedure concerns key amendments made to the Treaties, such as increasing or reducing the competences of the EU. In particular, it requires that an IGC be convened to adopt proposals for amendments by consensus. Amendments made to the Treaties shall only enter into force after having been ratified by all Member States.

The Treaty of Lisbon confirms current practice aimed at organising a European Convention prior to the IGC. The Convention has the task of examining proposals for amendments and then issuing a recommendation for the IGC. It is composed of representatives of Heads of State or Government, and representatives of the Commission, but also of national Parliaments and the European Parliament. The Treaty of Lisbon thus aims to make the process of revising the Treaties more democratic. Another major innovation is the acquisition by the European Parliament of the right of initiative. It may now make proposals for amendments on the same basis as Governments of Member States and the Commission.

The European Council may also decide, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, not to convene a Convention if amendments are not extensive. In such a case, it establishes a mandate for the IGC directly.

Simplified REVISION procedure

The Treaty of Lisbon creates a simplified procedure for the amendment of policies and internal actions of the EU. The objective is to facilitate the building of Europe in these two areas. Such a procedure allows for the convening of a European Convention and an Intergovernmental Conference to be avoided. However, the competences of the EU may not be extended by means of a simplified revision procedure.

As in the ordinary procedure, the Government of any Member State, the Commission or the European Parliament can submit proposals for amendments to the European Council. The European Council then adopts a Decision laying down the amendments made to the Treaties. The European Council acts by unanimity after consulting the Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Central Bank if the amendment concerns monetary matters. New provisions of the Treaties only enter into force after having been ratified by all Member States pursuant to their respect constitutional requirements.

THE GENERAL ‘PASSERELLE CLAUSE’

The passerelle clause established by the Treaty of Lisbon constitutes a second simplified revision procedure. This clause allows an act to be adopted according to procedures other than those laid down by the founding Treaties, without leading to a formal amendment of the Treaties. The general passerelle clause concerns two cases:

  • where the Treaties provide that an act is to be adopted by the Council acting unanimously, the European Council may adopt a Decision authorising the Council to act by qualified majority;
  • where the Treaties provide for acts to be adopted in accordance with a special legislative procedure, the European Council may adopt a decision allowing for the adoption of such acts in accordance with ordinary legislative procedure.

In both cases, the European Council shall act unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. Furthermore, each national Parliament has a right to object and may prevent the general passerelle clause from being activated.

The passerelle clause as defined in Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union applies to all European policies with the exception of defence and decisions with military implications. However, the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU provide for passerelle clauses applicable to certain specific areas (“legislative procedures” file). The added value of these clauses with respect to the general clause relates to certain procedural particularities. In particular, national Parliaments do not generally have a right to object.

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 29.01.2010
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