The Treaty of Lisbon (Treaty) is the result of the new push for European integration subsequent to the non-ratification of the European Constitution in 2005. The Treaty was signed on 13 December 2007 and entered into force on 1 January 2009, after ratification by all 27 Member States.
The project of a European Constitution
The Nice Treaty already contemplated a further study of the fundamental issues concerning a better definition of the competences of the Union and of the Member States, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the simplification of the Treaties and the role of the national parliaments. With the Laeken declaration of December 2001, the European Council specified that the reform would develop through a Convention, in order to prepare an intergovernmental conference.
The Convention was composed of representatives from national governments and parliaments in the Member States and candidate countries, and representatives from the European Parliament and the Commission. Its inaugural session was held on 28 February 2002 and works came to an end after seventeen months of discussions. The Convention produced a draft Treaty establishing a European Constitution that was presented to the Thessaloniki European Council. The draft Constitution served as a basis for the work of the intergovernmental conference, convened in October 2003. The draft finalized by the Conference was signed by the Heads of State and Government on 29 October 2004. The entering into force of the Constitution was conditioned to ratification by all Member States, in accordance with each one's constitutional rules. Due to the difficulties encountered in certain States, the Heads of State and Government decided, at the European Council meeting on 16 and 17 June 2005, to launch a period of reflection.
The drafting of the Lisbon Treaty
The debate following the European Council of June 2005 allowed to gradually clarify the aims of the European Union until the Member States, at the fiftieth year anniversary of the signing of the Rome Treaties (in march 2007), reaffirmed their determination to continue with the institutional and political integration (Berlin Declaration). This lead to the decision, at the European Council meeting on 21 and 22 June 2007, to convene an intergovernmental conference to draft, instead of a Constitution, a reform treaty for the European Union.
The intergovernmental conference began its works on 23 July 2007, based on a very detailed mandate on principles and contents to be developed, with the goal of adopting a reform treaty, instead of a Constitution, although it was specified that the profound innovations set further by the 2004 intergovernmental conference were to be taken into account. The result was the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009 as it is summarized below.
Description of the Treaty
Structure and general principles
The Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009, after ratifications by all 27 Member States and includes relevant institutional and procedural reforms, aimed at addressing the enlargement of the current 27 Member States.
The Treaty amends the Treaty on European Union (TEU, also knows as Maastricht Treaty) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC, previously known as Rome Treaty), redenominated Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), without replacing them. Even after renouncing to the constitutional level, the Treaty reproduced many of the items included in the Constitution for Europe in 2004.
The basic principles introduced in the TEU and included in a specific Title denominated "Provisions on democratic services" are:
-equality of citizens toward the institutions of the Union (Article 9);
-representative democracy, according to which citizens shall be represented within the institutions of the Union (directly in the European Parliament, indirectly in the European Council and in the Council of Ministers, through the domestic governments which are accountable to their parliaments – Article 10);
-democratic participation, contemplating that citizens and their organisations can actively participate in the Union, which has to interact with them (Article 11).
Human rights have an important recognition, with regards to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, annexed to the Lisbon Treaty, and to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which the Union adheres (Article 6).
The TEU – composed of 55 Articles – includes a description of the institutions and an ample section (Title V) on the external action of the Union and on common foreign and security policy.
Finally, adhesion procedures to the Union and the right of National parliaments to be informed on submitted requests are described, as well as the right for a Member State to leave the Union.
The Treaty intervenes on the whole institutional framework of the Union, both by reallocating power and by introducing new institutions. The new framework, as revised by the Treaty and now detailed in Title III TEU, "Provisions on the institutions" (articles 13-19) and in the TFEU (consisting of 345 articles), is described below.
European Parliament. Based on the principle of representative democracy, the role of the Parliament is strengthened by widening the recourse to the co-decision legislative procedure. The Parliament’s role is also strengthened in its budgetary functions. The Parliament will also have a political role of control through the election of the President of the European Commission, which will confer more democratic legitimacy to the latter institution. The Parliament now consists of 751 members, excluded the President, with each State having between 9 and 96 seats.
Council of Ministers. This institution, which was formerly denominated Council, is formed by ministerial representatives from the Member States and has competences in the legislation, balance and definition of coordination policies. The council is no longer presided on the basis of a six-month rotation, but instead by a group of 3 Member States for an 18-month term. As for voting, qualified majority is extended versus unanimity. A new system of qualified majority is introduced, inclusive of 55% of the States (i.e. 15) representing 65% of the Union's population.
European Council. This body, which has also previously gathered the Heads of State and Government in order to agree on the general political lines of action of the Union, now becomes an institution. Presidency will last 2 and a half years, renewable once.
European Commission. The Commission remains the institution holding the power of legislative initiative; it promotes the general interest of the Union and it plays the role of “watchdog” on the respect of the Treaties and of the European Union law. Until 1 November 2014, the Commission will consist of a representative for each Member State. Subsequently, its composition will be reduced to 18. The President will be elected by the Parliament.
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.The Treaty introduces this new institution, which unifies the functions previously held by the Commissioner for External Relations and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The High Representative is appointed by the European Council, it presides over the Foreign Affairs Council and acts as Vice-president of the Commission. The High Representative uses the European diplomatic service, composed of officers from the Council, the Commission and the National diplomacy services.
Allocation of competences between the Union and the Member States
Title I (Art. 2-6) of the TFUE better clarifies the allocation of competences between the Union and the Member States, now organised in three categories:
- exclusive competences of the Union in the sectors where it has the power to legislate1;
- concurrent competences, on which Member States can legislate where the Union decides not to2;
- sectors on which competence belongs to Member States and the Union can only act in support3.
The Treaty does not confer new exclusive competences to the Union, but it introduces new concurrent competences and support actions. Title I also specifies that the allocation of competences is based on three principles:
-attribution, according to which the Union cannot expand its competences further to the Treaty attributions;
-subsidiarity, providing that the Union, where its competence is not exclusive, can intervene only insofar as the aims set in the Treaty cannot be adequately pursued by the Member States;
-proportionality, which ensures that the actions taken by the Union do not exceed what is necessary for achieving the goals of the Treaty. National parliaments oversee the respect of the subsidiarity principle.
Procedures are described in Articles 288-299 TFEU. Codecision4, which ensures equal relevance to the role of the Parliament and the Council, is extended to several subjects. This procedure is now extended to fifty areas5.
Only for the more politically sensitive matters – such as defence and security – unanimity in the Council remains the rule. The Treaty also allows the Council, by a unanimous decision, to move some areas from unanimous to majority decision. The Council can also decide to subject to codecision matters that would not belong to such procedure. The Treaty also attributes i) to the National parliaments the right to raise objections to proposals by the Commission, thus determining their review, and ii) to the citizens a right of initiative, with the right to have the Commission adopt a legislative proposal when a million signatures are collected from a relevant number of Member States. Moreover, the meetings of the Council of Ministers where legislative proposals are discussed will be public.
Main policies of the European Union
The Treaty, in updating the policies within the TFUE, deals with subjects of great interest for the 21st century, such as climate change, globalisation, and security. Moreover, in developing policies in favour of citizens, the Union shall also consider, besides the growth of competitiveness, the effects of social protection. These policies shall also include employment, social protection and fight against exclusion.
The Policies of the Union represent the widest part of Section Three of the TFEU, with about 200 articles. Below are some issues on the main changes or new policies:
Climate change and environment. The Treaty strengthens the action of the Union in these sectors, by introducing the goals of fight to climate change and promoting International measures on environmental issues.
Civil Protection. The Treaty acknowledges that climate change causes natural disasters, which require cooperation between Member States. A specific legislative foundation is introduced for this cooperation, so as to improve prevention and protection from natural and man-made disasters.
Energy. The Treaty provides the Union with a specific policy on Energy and energetic supplies, by defining principles such as the functioning of the Energy market, efficiency and safety of supplies. The principle of solidarity in case a State has supply difficulty is introduced.
Research and technological development. A space policy is introduced by the Treaty, with the aim of supporting research and coordinate efforts for the use of space, coherently with the goal of setting up a European space for research, where researchers, knowledge and technology can freely circulate.
Economic and monetary policy. The Treaty introduces the possibility for the Commission to address a warning to a Member State, in case there is a risk of excessive deficit, rather than a recommendation by the Council under a proposal by the Commission, as it was previously the case. Solidarity is also expressly mentioned. The so-called "Eurogroup" is also officially introduced in the Treaty.
Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion. A special attention is dedicated to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and islands, cross-border and mountain regions. Public services, such as schools and health assistance, play an important role. A specific Protocol establishes the principles for ensuring adequate and sufficient services of general interest.
Health. The Treaty deals with the well-being and health of citizens and extends the competence of the Union on serious trans-border threats. The States need to cooperate to improve the complementarity of their border health services. Measures can be adopted to protect health with regards to tobacco and alcohol.
Social policy. The Union confirms its aim of supporting employment, improvement of the working and living conditions, social dialogue, fight against social exclusion, and it encourages cooperation between Member States in all fields of social policy.
Freedom, safety and justice. The Treaty will facilitate decisions in this field, as most of them will no longer require unanimity, since they will pass to the codecision procedure with a qualified majority. The Union’s endeavour to implement a space of freedom, safety and justice is based on the judicial systems of the Member States. The Union will fight against criminality, racism, xenophobia through the coordination and cooperation of police and judiciary authorities. Europol is recognised as an investigative body. Judicial cooperation is strengthened in criminal and civil policies, through the reciprocal recognition of decisions.
External action. The Treaty confirms the juridical personality of the Union (Article 47), which has negotiating power for the adhesion to international conventions and organisations. External actions will be strengthened by the appointment of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Common commercial policy. The Treaty refers to the interest of the Union for the development of world commerce, the end of restrictions to International trade and direct investment, and the reduction of customs barriers.
Cooperation with third countries. Assistance is contemplated in the field of finance, also for countries different from developing countries. A specific reference is made to humanitarian help for third-country victims of natural or man-made disasters, with the constitution of a specific voluntary body.
The Treaty was approved at the end of a complex process, which was characterised by the failure of the Constitution project. It seems to be the conclusive point of a phase of expansion of the activities of the Union in further areas, besides the economic issues that characterised the original architecture of the Rome Treaty. This phase also saw the adaptation of the institutional framework and functioning to the rapid expansion toward east subsequent to the end of the Cold War. While several observers thought that the new framework would have made new relevant updates unnecessary, the difficulties arising from the economic-financial crises that hit, particularly from 2010, some Member States have brought about discussions on possible reforms of the parameters of the Monetary Union and on the powers of the European Central Bank.
1Such as customs union; the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market; monetary policy for the Member States whose currency is the euro; the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy; common commercial policy.
2Such as internal market; social policy, for the aspects defined in this Treaty; economic, social and territorial cohesion; agriculture and fisheries, excluding the conservation of marine biological resources; environment; consumer protection; transport; trans-European networks; energy area of freedom, security and justice; common safety concerns in public health matters, for the aspects defined in this Treaty.
3Such as protection and improvement of human health; industry; culture; tourism; education, vocational training, youth and sport; civil protection; administrative cooperation.
4Article 294 TFUE, formerly 251 of TEC.
5Some of the main policies are: structural funds, agriculture, matters of freedom, safety and justice, control of external frontiers, illegal immigration, judiciary cooperation in the civil and criminal field.
Editor: Lucio LANUCARA
© 2010 ASSONEBB