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The Treaty of Lisbon: introduction

The Treaty of Lisbon meets the need to reform the structure of the EU and the way in which it functions. Successive EU enlargements have increased the number of Member States to 27. It was therefore necessary to adapt the way the European institutions function and how decisions are taken.

In addition, the Treaty of Lisbon has enabled several EU policies to be reformed. It has redefined and strengthened actions taken at European level.

HISTORY

A first attempt at reform took place with the drawing up of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The aim was to replace the founding Treaties of the EU with a European Constitution.

The Constitution was signed in Rome on 29 October 2004. However, before entering into force it had to be ratified by all Member States. The ratification process failed in several Member States.

On 23 July 2007, a new intergovernmental conference was convened in Lisbon to find an alternative to the constitutional Treaty and to proceed with the reforms. The idea of a European Constitution was therefore abandoned and further negotiations took place with the aim of drawing up an amending Treaty.

On 13 December 2007, the 27 EU Heads of State or Government signed the new amending Treaty in Lisbon. The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009, after having been ratified by all Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

DIFFERENCES WITH THE TREATY ESTABLISHING A CONSTITUTION FOR EUROPE

The Treaty of Lisbon is broadly inspired by the Constitutional Treaty. The majority of the institutional and policy reforms envisaged in the Constitution are included in the Treaty of Lisbon, but presented in a different form.

The Constitutional Treaty was intended to repeal the founding Treaties of the EU and replace them with a single text: the Constitution for Europe. In contrast, the Treaty of Lisbon does not replace the founding Treaties; it only amends them as did the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties previously. The Treaty of Lisbon therefore takes the form of a series of amendments to the founding Treaties.

This change in form does not affect matters at the judicial level, but it does have a significant effect on a symbolic level and on policy plans. The idea of a European Constitution has been abandoned and European law is still established by international Treaties.

Therefore, the EU is still based on two founding Treaties: the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community. However, the Treaty establishing the European Community is renamed the “Treaty on the Functioning of the EU”.

THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE TREATY OF LISBON

The Treaty of Lisbon:

  • reforms the EU institutions and improves the EU decision-making process;
  • strengthens the democratic dimension of the EU;
  • reforms the internal policies of the EU;
  • strengthens the external policies of the EU.

Institutional issues

The reform of the EU institutions was necessary due to the increase in the number of Member States. Accordingly, the Treaty of Lisbon amends the rules concerning the composition of the Commission, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee.

In addition, the Treaty of Lisbon reforms the decision-making process within the Council. It effectively abolishes the old system of weighted voting and introduces a new definition of qualified majority voting for decisions.

The Treaty of Lisbon also creates two new functions in the EU institutional architecture:

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon strives to clarify and improve the functioning of the EU. It abolishes the old pillar structure and introduces a new distribution of competences between the EU and Member States. The Treaty of Lisbon also simplifies the legislative procedures and the types of legal acts adopted in the EU.

Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon makes the functioning of the EU more flexible. It introduces several institutional clauses aimed at facilitating European integration in certain policy areas. Establishing enhanced cooperation between Member States is also made easier.

The strengthening of European democracy

One of the aims of the Lisbon Treaty is to strengthen European democracy, particularly in order to improve the legitimacy of decisions and to bring the EU and its citizens closer together. Consequently, the powers of the European Parliament are increased considerably. Similarly, the Treaty of Lisbon gives national parliaments in the EU a larger role.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon creates the citizens’ initiative, enabling citizens to participate more actively in the building of Europe.

Internal policies of the EU

One of the most significant changes concerns the European area for freedom, security and justice. The Treaty of Lisbon increases EU powers in the areas of:

  • border control, asylum and immigration;
  • judicial cooperation in civil matters;
  • judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • police cooperation.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon clarifies EU powers in the area of economic, social and energy policies. It also sets as a new objective the creation of a European Research Area.

External policies of the EU

EU action at international level is increased. Above all, the Treaty of Lisbon gives greater coherence and visibility to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. The EU therefore acquires legal personality, enabling it to negotiate and to be a contracting party in international Treaties. In addition, the EU is henceforth represented globally by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Furthermore, a section of the founding Treaties is now devoted to the Common Security and Defence Policy. The long-term objectives aim at establishing a Common European Defence.

Last updated: 14.07.2010
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