What is the Lisbon Treaty anyway?

All this fuss about a piece of paper. What’s the document actually about? Well, the future of the EU – or how to share power among 27 countries, and how much power the EU has to tell its members what to do.


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Treaty of Nice (2001) - veto out, 'weighed decisions' in

The background: If you’re going to understand the Lisbon Treaty, you have to go back to February 2001 and the Treaty of Nice – the first attempt to overhaul the workings of the EU as it expanded to include new countries, mostly from Eastern Europe. As the union grew larger, its requirement for unanimity and acceptance of individual countries’ veto right were proving ineffective.


The objective: To review the working relationship between the European Parliament, with MEPs directly elected by universal suffrage, and the European Council, where the governments of the member states are represented.


The effect: After a hiccup in Ireland – whose voters rejected it in an initial referendum but accepted it six months later, the Treaty of Nice went into effect on Jan. 1, 2003. Five years later, it’s still the de facto agreement underpinning the EU, and critics say it desperately needs reform.



Main points:



- The Treaty of Nice eliminates the possibility of veto power by any single country.


- Unanimous approval is scrapped in the European Council – except for taxation and social issues.


- Under “weighed voting” in the Council, countries with larger populations get more votes in making decisions. Smaller nations complain.


- The principle of increased cooperation between states is established. States can form partnerships to strengthen their efforts on a particular subject, but must number at least eight and their initiative must be validated by the Commission.


- The treaty caps the number of commissioners in the EU Commission. Instead of fixing a precise number of commissioners by nationality, they intend to share this duty through an equal, rotating system that will enter into force at a later date.

The Constitutional Treaty (2005) - too ambitious for its own good


The background: The Treaty of Nice was the starting point of the debate on the future of the European Union. In the months after its ratification, a European Convention was set up to make recommendations along four main themes: the simplification of existing treaties, more precise delimitation of powers between member states and the European Union, the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the role of national parliaments in Member States. The treaty "establishing a European Constitution" was adopted by member countries in October 2004.


The objective: The Constitutional Treaty was intended to repeal the treaties governing the functioning of the EU since its creation by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and replace them with a single text to act as a constitution.


The effect: Eighteen European countries out of 25 ratified the constitutional treaty, but it met stiff opposition among the French and Dutch, who rejected it in referendums and provoked its demise.As the Constitutional Treaty was abandoned, the Treaty of Nice remained to govern the functioning of the EU. Meanwhile, EU leaders agreed to open the debate to civil society.

The Treaty of Lisbon (2007) - bringing Brussels closer to Euro-citizens

The background: The failure of the Constitutionnal Treaty shook the confidence of even the most europhile of politicians. The Treaty of Lisbon is the toned down version of it. It draws from the general principles set by the draft Constitution, merely amending existing treaties. It also pays heed to the lessons learned from the experience of the Treaty of Nice, taking into account the demands of transparency and democracy among European citizens.


The effect: The Treaty of Lisbon was approved in December 2007. Twenty one of the EU's 27 countries have so far ratified it  through parliamentary votes. However, the Irish voted "No" when consulted by referendum, disrupting the process. The Treaty was originally scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2009.


Main Points: 


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- It strenghtens the role of national Parliaments before the Commission through the principle of subsidiarity: outside areas of exclusive jurisdiction, the Union intervenes only when its action is more effective than action taken at national level.

- It establishes the right of popular initiative, which allows citizens to petition the Commission directly.

- The EU creates the post of High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Its incumbent also serves as vice-chairman of the Commission.

- The Treaty of Lisbon confirms the rule of qualified majority voting. Starting from 2014, the majority is achieved if at least 55 percent of member states, comprising at least 65 percent of the population of the Union, vote favourably.

- The system of a rotating six-month presidency is replaced by the election of a Council President for a two
-and-a-half-year term.

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