The Treaty of Lisbon does not fundamentally change the EU’s institutional set‑up, which is still based on its three main bodies: European Parliament, Council and European Commission. However, it introduces a number of new elements to make these bodies more effective, consistent and transparent, all in the cause of better serving the people of Europe.
In total, there are now seven EU institutions: the European Parliament, European Council, Council, European Commission, European Court of Justice, European Central Bank and European Court of Auditors. So what has the treaty changed?
This body represents voters in the EU’s member countries. The treaty has boosted its powers as regards lawmaking, the EU budget and approval of international agreements. The composition of the parliament has also been changed - the number of MEPs is capped at 751 (750 plus the president of the parliament). Seats are distributed among countries according to “degressive proportionality”, i.e. MEPs from more populous countries will each represent more people than those from smaller countries. No country may now have less than 6 or more than 96 MEPs.
The European Council, which has the role of driving EU policy-making, now becomes a full EU institution. Although it does not gain any new powers, it is headed by a newly created position of president. Elected by the European Council for 2½ years, the main job of the president is to prepare the Council’s work, ensure its continuity and work to secure consensus among member countries. The president cannot simultaneously hold any elected position or office nationally.
The Council of the European Union
The Council represents the EU’s member governments. Its role is largely unchanged. It continues to share lawmaking and budget power with the European Parliament and maintain its central role in common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and coordinating economic policies.
The main change brought by the Treaty of Lisbon concerns the decision making process. Firstly, the default voting method for the Council is now qualified majority voting, except where the treaties require a different procedure (e.g. a unanimous vote). In practice, this means that qualified majority voting has been extended to many new policy areas (e.g. immigration and culture).
In 2014, a new voting method will be introduced - double majority voting. To be passed by the Council, proposed EU laws will then require a majority not only of the EU’s member countries (55 %) but also of the EU population (65 %). This will reflect the legitimacy of the EU as a union of both peoples and nations. It will make EU lawmaking both more transparent and more effective. And it will be accompanied by a new mechanism (similar to the “Ioannina compromise”) enabling a small number of member governments (close to a blocking minority) to demonstrate their opposition to a decision. Where this mechanism is used, the Council will be required to do everything in its power to reach a satisfactory solution between the two parties, within a reasonable time period.
Its main job is promoting the European public interest. The Treaty offers the perspective that a Commissioner from each Member State becomes Member of the Commission, while under the former Treaties that number would have to be reduced to a number inferior to that of Member States.
In another major change, there is a direct link between the results of the European elections and the choice of candidate for president of the Commission.
The president is also stronger, as he/she has the power to dismiss fellow Commissioners.
EU high representative for foreign and security policy / Commission vice-president
The creation of this post is one of the major institutional innovations introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. It should ensure consistency in the EU’s dealings with foreign countries and international bodies.
The high representative has a dual role: representing the Council on common foreign and security policy matters and also being Commissioner for external relations. Conducting both common foreign policy and common defence policy, he/she chairs the periodic meetings of member countries’ foreign ministers (the “foreign affairs Council”). And he/she represents the EU’s common foreign and security policy internationally, assisted by a new European external action service, composed of officials from the Council, Commission and national diplomatic services.
The other institutions
No significant changes have been made to the role or powers of the European Central Bank or the Court of Auditors. However, the treaty broadens the scope of the European Court of Justice, especially as regards police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and changes some of its procedures.
Although national parliaments are not part of the EU’s official institutional setup, they play a vital role in the operation of the EU. The Treaty recognises and strengthens the role of national parliaments. For example, if a sufficient number of national parliaments is convinced that a legislative initiative should better be taken at a local, regional or national level, the Commission either has to withdraw it or give a clear justification why it does not believe that the initiative is in breach with the principle of subsidiarity.