Lisbon Treaty

Main Changes in the Functioning of the EU
The "Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community" came into effect on 1 December 2009. What are the main changes it will bring to the functioning of the EU?

The European Union's New Faces
The most visible change stemming from the Lisbon Treaty will be the creation of two new positions - the Permanent President of the European Council and the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The chairman of the European Council, elected by leaders of Member States for two and a half years, will lead summits of the highest representatives of Member States. The rotating presidency will be maintained, but representatives of the presiding country will lead only the regular Council of Ministers meetings.

In the position of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, the Lisbon Treaty joins together the previous offices of high representative for foreign and security policy and commissioner for foreign affairs. The high representative is elected by Member States for a five-year term and will at the same time be deputy chairman of the European Commission. The Lisbon Treaty creates a European external action service, composed of officials from the Council, Commission and national diplomatic services.

New Rules for Decision-making in the Council of Ministers
An important change in the EU decision-making process is the expansion of the number of areas the Council of Ministers will decide with a qualified majority. The Lisbon Treaty expands this voting method by 68 new areas. After the treaty comes into effect, it will be used in 218 areas. The principle of unanimity remains preserved in sensitive areas such as taxes, social security, foreign policy, common defence, operative police cooperation, language rules and questions on institutions' headquarters.

The Nice Treaty divided 345 balanced votes among EU Member States on the basis of their size, while smaller states were given preferential treatment. 255 balanced votes are currently needed to approve a Commission proposal. If the Council does not decide on the Commission's proposal, it will request this minimum number of votes represent at least two-thirds of Member States. In addition, each state could request a re-examination into whether Member States creating a qualified majority represent at least 62 % of the total EU population.

According to the Lisbon Treaty, the method of voting by a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers will change as of 1 November 2014. A qualified majority will be represented by 55 % of Member States, which represent at least 65 % of EU inhabitants. By 2017, any country can request a voting system according to the Treaty of Nice.

One Country, One Commissioner
According to the guarantees negotiated by Ireland before holding its second referendum, the Commission will be made up of representatives of all Member States, while under the current Treaty the number of commissioners would be lower. The Chairman of the European Commission will gain new legal powers to recall individual commissioners.

New Legal Powers for the European Parliament
The Treaty will strengthen the standing of the European Parliament because it expands the number of areas in which it decides together with the Council of Ministers in the so-called ordinary legislative procedure. The European Parliament will gain a greater influence over deciding on the EU's financial outlook and its budget. The previous differentiation between optional and required spending (for example in direct agricultural subsidies) will be cancelled. The European Parliament must also give its approval in closing all international agreements which relate to issues falling under the ordinary legislative procedure.

The upper limit for the number of MEPs is 751. This ceiling will come into effect in 2014, and in the transitional period, 754 MEPs will sit in Strasbourg.

EU Legal Subjectivity
The Lisbon Treaty also implements legal subjectivity for the European Union. On a practical level, this change will appear for example in the conversion of European Commission delegations in three countries to European Union delegations which will be an integral part of the European Service for External Affairs. Agreements with third countries will in the future be signed in the name of the EU and not in the name of the European Community and its member states. However, its legal subjectivity does not entitle the European Union to pass legal regulations or to actions in areas outside its authority, which was entrusted to it in the treaties by the Member States.

Withdrawal from the EU
The Lisbon Treaty contains a new provision on voluntary withdrawal from the EU which recognises that Member States have the right to withdraw from the EU at any time.

Strengthening National Parliaments in Relation to the EU
National parliaments can dispute certain Commission proposals because they are not in agreement with the principle of subsidiarity. If this opinion is supported by one-third of Member States' parliaments, the Commission must re-examine its proposal and decide whether they will keep it, change it or withdraw it. This mechanism is called the "yellow card."

If the fears are shared by a majority of Member States' parliaments and despite this the Commission decides to insist on its proposal, the so-called "orange card" mechanism is begun. The Commission must clarify its reasons for its proposal and the European Parliament and the Council will decide whether to continue the legislative approach.

Citizens ´ Initiative
The Lisbon Treaty introduces the institution of citizens´initiatives. If an initiative gains the support of one million citizens of a greater number of Member States, it can call on the Commission to present a certain proposal in the area of the EU's activity. However, the conditions for these initiatives are only set generally and should be specified by a detailed regulation.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, passed on 7 December 2000 in Nice, becomes legally binding with the Lisbon Treaty in the version amended on 12 December 2007. Great Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic are exempted from this Charter.

The Charter sets basic rights in these six headings: Dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, civil rights and justice. The document contains provisions relating to fundamental human rights, civil and political rights. Its parts also include economic and social rights, which were the subject of the greatest controversy.

Author: www.euroskop.cz