The Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty of Lisbon came into force on 1 December 2009 and reforms the way in which the European Union functions.

The treaty makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which was adopted a few years ago, legally binding for the first time. In addition the EU has acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The treaty increases the use of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers (containing representatives of national governments) and reduced the ability of countries to veto decisions made by the Council.  Decisions made through qualified majority voting must be approved by a 55% of the member states representing at least 65% of the EU’s population.

The treaty also introduces a President of the European Council appointed by the European Council, which is composed of the heads of government of the member states. In addition a High Representative for Foreign Affairs is appointed under the treaty to oversee the EU’s foreign policy including the establishment of an EU diplomatic service. The treaty also extends the EU’s powers over foreign affairs and police and justice which have traditionally been the preserve of member states.

The legislative powers of the European Parliament (consisting of members elected by the voters of the member states) have been increased so that the European Commission (composed of commissioners from member states) proposes legislation, which must be jointly ratified by the European Council and the parliament. The parliament also has to approve the EU budget each year which is proposed by the Commission.

The treaty makes the European Union a separate legal person with the right, for example, to enter into treaties in its own right which would be automatically binding on member states. The treaty also defines the areas in which the EU has sole competency and the areas which are shared jointly with member states and the areas which are the preserve of member states.

Those in favour of the treaty believe that it will make decision making within the EU more efficient and help to clarify the respective powers of the EU and the member states.

Opponents of the treaty believe that it centralises power in the hands of EU officials and reduces the sovereignty of member states and makes the EU less rather than more democratic.

Richard Abbott

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