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Lisbon Treaty Changes Essay Writer

Today, we can say that the Lisbon Treaty is the most important document in the European Union (EU). It is the newest treaty, the most up to date, and it dictates how European institutions work. However, previous treaties should not be considered as less important. If we think about the evolution of the EU and how it came into existence, it could be said that every treaty shares credit for what happened. Yet, certain treaties have had more impact on European integration than others.  The Treaty on European Union (TEU), signed in Maastricht, was one of the most important agreements in the EU’s history. Indeed, not only did it reform the structure of the European Community (EC) through the establishment of a political union, and strengthen economic integration with the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), but it also enabled the stabilisation of political tensions within Europe at the end of the Cold War, and integrated a unified Germany into the EU. As a result of this treaty the EC could not be called as such anymore, and from that point on it had to be referred to as the European Union. With the Maastricht Treaty, the EC took a step forward in European integration and in uniting its member states. Nonetheless, even if governments were very enthusiastic about it, public opinion was very much concerned about where this integration would eventually lead, thus making the ratification of the treaty more difficult. This essay will focus first on what the TEU actually says, and on the major innovations of the treaty. Then, it will study the effects it had on, as well as the reaction of the member states and will determine why the ratification process was so long. Finally, we will try to understand why the treaty was so important for the EC, and what the catalysts were that brought together the member states to agree upon the Maastricht Treaty.

The principal change of the treaty, which brought about all the other innovations to follow, was the ‘three pillars’ structure of the EU organisation. The 3 pillars consist of the Single European Act (SEA), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and the Justice and Home Affairs. Therefore, within this structure emerged a new political union, through the second and third pillar, and a monetary union, through the first pillar (Europa, 2007). The particularity of this organisation is that even if each pillar was designed to be independent from one another, “bridges” could be made, (Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994a: 28) as the action of one community would generate issues in another. For instance, because of the creation of a Single European Market (SEM) borders had to be opened, and as a consequence visa policy throughout the EU zone had to be changed (ibid). Concerning decision making, the EC would remain supranational and communautaire, implying that member states would only play a secondary role, while the other two would stay on an intergovernmental level (ibid: 19). However, a significant difference between the SEA and Maastricht was that the European Parliament gained power over member states, especially from 1992 onwards, as it would “adopt acts in conjunction with the Council” (Europa, 2007). This was very important because it meant that the Parliament would be playing a direct role in European legislation and would have both the power to negotiate with and “say a definitive ‘no’ to the Council” (Vanhoonacker in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994: 3; Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994a: 33).

Therefore, one of the major innovations which the TEU brought with its three pillars structure was the establishment of a political union. There had already been some agreements on social policies after the SEA, but integration was more focused on the economic aspect of European cooperation. Before the TEU, one of the only forms of political unity that existed was the European Political Cooperation, which was mainly foreign policy related and consisted of “mutual information and consultation.” The Twelve, the member states at the time, would agree on adopting “common position” concerning events in the world (Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994a: 19). However, it was quite difficult for them to find common ground for agreement, especially with the Yugoslavia crisis of 1990, for instance. First, the states could not agree on the whole situation and on what measures had to be taken in order to prevent a break-up. Second, when the break-up finally happened, the member states could not agree on whether the new states should be recognised. Hence, serious questions emerged on the unity of these European countries and many people wondered if the CFSP would actually work (Vanhoonacker in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994: 7). Of course, it was eventually implemented during the creation of the Maastricht Treaty, and it was a way for the newly born EU to show that member states could cooperate because they had common interests in doing so, those of the union (Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994a: 37).

Moreover, concerning social policies “Member States had already been cooperating in different forms,” (ibid: 39) mainly because of the SEA which had already defined common standards for the “health and safety of workers” (ibid: 32). Nevertheless, one of the treaty’s aims was to develop a bigger social dimension for the EU. Thus, it introduced extended cooperation between member states with more involved participation of the European legislative regarding social issues such as education, employment, or labour (ibid). Furthermore, a special citizenship for people of each member state was brought forward by the treaty. It did not only increase the social dimension of the union, but also developed a new political comprehensiveness because the EU was now acknowledging the fact that it was one entity which was formed by and worked for the citizens, rather than a body composed of different states driven by their national interests.

Another significant development of the EU that was brought by the TEU was the establishment of the Economic and Monetary Union. It was considered as “the strongest form” and the last step towards full economic integration (Healey, 1995: 7). Many agreements had been reached after the SEA that noted further cooperation would be needed. The plan that had already emerged in the 1980s was known as the 1992 project. The idea was to essentially have a Single European Market, where all trade barriers would be dropped, and where it “must lead to a more unified Community” (Delors in Cecchini, Catinat and Jacquemin, 1988: xi). The objective of this plan was to develop more efficient trade and boost growth and development within the EC (Baun, 1995: 608). Many agreements had already been made in the years before 1992, the Maastricht Treaty just made these commitments “legally binding” (Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994a: 28). Hence, the declarations made in the TEU were “more a matter of legitimation than of innovation,” (ibid) but it would be the final touch for the single market (Europa, 2007). Therefore, with the union in the 1990s, economic integration would take the road of no-return. The consequences of a SEM and of the formation of a single currency would be irreversible actions for the EU (ibid: 17). What makes the EMU so significant today is the knowledge that each member state in 1992 realised that they would enter a permanent situation in which European integration would drive their policies, and that decisions taken during the writing of the treaty would be irrevocable; no state would possibly be able to go back to its previous relative economic and political independence after ratification, yet they still agreed to it.

Amongst all the theories that explain European integration, neofunctionalism is quite relevant in explaining why the Maastricht was created. Indeed, neofunctionalists consider political integration and the creation of a monetary union as “inevitable outgrowth” or a spill-over of economic integration (Baun, 1995: 606). Their main belief is that through slow and gradual economic cooperation, European integration will follow. First, because this cooperation cannot happen if integration does not exist, Jacques Delores, the President of the Commission at the time, said that “without a new treaty, it would not be possible to make any significant progress” towards the EMU, (European NAvigator, n.d.) thus making the statement that for further integration, other forms of integration had to be achieved. Second, integration will develop and reach a point where any state involved in the integration process cannot decide to abandon it, because that process is too interlinked with national policies (McCormick, 2008: 9). Helmut Kohl, German Chancellor, stated that “monetary and political union were not separable but were instead two sides of the same coin” (Baun, 1995: 621). Therefore, the Maastricht Treaty had to happen eventually because of increased integration.

What happened after the TEU was written was very unexpected. It would have been sensible to think that the ratification process should have gone smoothly, given the good public opinion in the 1980s about the 1992 project, and the enthusiastic commitment of national governments to the EC. Nonetheless, the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty lasted almost two years and turned out to be quite a difficult process with many obstacles (Vanhoonacker in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994: 3).  First of all, the economic crises that hit Europe between 1992 and 1993 hindered the development of the EMU, as currencies devalued one by one which led to a partial collapse of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Stagflation followed throughout the EC and the “economic problems had a negative effect on popular support for further European integration” (Vanhoonacker in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994: 6).

One of the major blows to ratification was the Danish ‘no’ on their TEU referendum. It caused “a shock-wave throughout Europe,” (ibid: 5) as citizens in other states began to question and criticise the EC and its development. Once it was clear that people from Denmark were against the treaty opposition grew stronger in other countries. For instance, in France, President Mitterrand decided to call a ratification referendum, which only passed with a slight majority of 51%. Certain governments, such as that of the UK, took this opportunity to bargain and get what they wanted from the treaty. Out of the Twelve, four member states have been through major troubles because the ratification process had been “politically controversial” for them, these were Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (Laursen in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994: 295). Spain has been an issue as well, but the protests were minor compared to what occurred in other countries.

One of the main reasons why the Danish said ‘no’ to the treaty was because of European citizenship. Many people in the member states were afraid that the establishment of such a citizenship would impede their national one, causing a debate on national identity. However, that would not have happened if national governments had been more communicative about the treaty. It was not a problem of transparency, but rather of comprehension. The wording of such treaties is usually very complex and a majority of citizens could not understand it, as was the case in 1992. This is why governments launched campaigns that explained the content of the TEU in a language that normal people could assimilate (Vanhoonacker in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994: 5). Nevertheless, it was not just an issue of misunderstanding, citizens were also genuinely concerned about the changes brought about by the Maastricht Treaty. After the referendum in France, the government had to confront serious issues as only little more than half of the population agreed with its decisions regarding the EU, and it had “serious questions as to popular support for a further deepening of European integration” (ibid: 6). In southern Europe, the Spanish were “facing unemployment rate of more than 20%,” so they truly doubted the capacity of the EC to be beneficial to Spain (ibid). As for the Germans, they were wary about losing their national currency and replacing it with a European currency (ibid: 5). The Danish, French, and all others eventually surrendered to the Maastricht Treaty, but public opinion is still an extremely important issue, as opposition parties grow stronger every year within the EU.

On a governmental level, national parliaments, especially the British one, and other national bodies, such as the Bundesbank in Germany, were very troubled. Indeed, both were exceedingly concerned with their sovereignty. First, the UK had been opposed to certain ideas of the TEU a while before ratification. It was mainly the Conservative party, with Thatcher and Major as Prime Ministers, which caused problems. It absolutely refused the third stage of the EMU, which was that of substituting its national currency with a common one, and this measure was seen by British right wing politicians as “a ‘conveyor belt to federalism’ and the definitive abandonment of national sovereignty” (Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994b: 256). Furthermore, when Major came into power in the early 1990s, he was ready to cooperate with other member states regarding the CFSP, but he also wanted a certain leeway of independence, he said that “Where we can act together we will do so. Where we need to act on our own, we must be able to do so” (Major quoted in Best in Laursen and Vanhoonacker, 1994b: 255). Second, the Bundesbank in Germany gained power over the EC through the European Monetary System (EMS) because Germany was the biggest economy. Thus, it was unsatisfied because if the EMU was established it would lose sovereignty over its monetary policies and would have to take orders from the European Central Bank (Baun, 1995; 607).

The issues that occurred during the ratification process were to some extent consequences of previous problems seen in the EC in the late 1980’s. Take for example the Bundesbank, it was willing to delay any plans for the EMU because it had already been “forced to accept against its strong disapproval rapid German monetary union,” and it felt it was losing control over Germany’s monetary stability (ibid: 617). The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a critical turning point for the world system as it announced the end of Cold War, but it was also an important event for the EC because it implied German unification, and a possible resurgent German threat. These logically had some consequences which created some issues in Europe that correlated to some extent. After the end of the Cold War the international economy and system changed drastically, and Europe did not know where it stood, but it definitely knew that it wanted to have an important and active role on the global stage (ibid: 605). However, that could only be possible through further integration of the EC. Though, that was not the major reason why the Maastricht Treaty was founded.

Since German unification was not debatable for Kohl, Chancellor of the FRG in 1989, it created high tensions within the EC because member states feared a renewal of German power and independence, which would force the country to draw back from the community (ibid: 609). Consequently, Franco-German relationships at the time suffered from a great loss of trust. Member states sought for an immediate deepening of integration because they did not trust Germany’s commitment to the EC. For Delors, significant steps to further integration were “the only satisfactory and acceptable response to the German question” (quoted in Baun, 1995: 609). Only the UK was against the idea, it believed that enlargement was the best thing to do as it would democratise Eastern Europe, while integration would strengthen Germany’s place in the EC (Baun, 1995: 610). France feared its loss of power over Germany and the only way to secure its influence was a significant increase in European integration, so it was mainly concerned about the role it would have in the EC once Germany became unified (ibid). Kohl was willing to prove to member states that a unified Germany was still a Germany committed to the EC, and that he was “in favor of deepening the EC.” He even stressed that unification and integration could go hand-in-hand and that they were “mutually reinforcing processes” (ibid: 610-611).

Therefore, under these circumstances the Treaty of Maastricht became a political bargaining game, principally between France and Germany, as each “viewed the agreement as a means of securing vital national interests” (ibid: 606). The Franco-German tensions decreased when an agreement was reached between both states that political integration would be discussed at the Intergovernmental Conference of 1992. However, some compromises had to be made. Kohl had to withdraw some of his ideas on political union, as that of a powerful European Parliament, in order to have the French government recognise the new states created by the break-up of Yugoslavia (ibid: 621). The fact that tension had arisen between France and Germany in the years preceding the TEU had been a shock for the EC as they were considered “the primary motor of European integration” (ibid: 619). Hence, when Mitterrand and Kohl jointly proposed an acceleration of the development of the monetary union and “called for new initiatives on political union,” it was a relief for the whole community and “of great symbolic importance” (ibid: 615, 619). From 1990 to 1992, there was a “close collaboration of the French and German governments to ensure that” the community survived and strengthened through the TEU, and that could only be explained by “the considerable political and symbolic importance attached to the treaty” (ibid: 623).

In conclusion, the Maastricht Treaty was not only significant because of what was in it; the establishment of a political union and the EMU through a new ‘three pillars’ structure of the EU, but also because it made European citizens realise what was actually happening between countries. Furthermore, the fact that public opinion was so involved in the process of ratification shows how it was a big a step for every single person in the EC, politician or manual worker. Nonetheless, as Baun argues, “the Maastricht Treaty was essentially a political response by the EC and its member countries to German unification and the end of the cold war” (ibid). The drastic changes that the end of the Cold War brought caused the EC to develop a new treaty in order to adapt itself to this new world, but mainly to adapt itself to the reunification of Germany. However, the TEU was also a political instrument for Kohl who needed an excuse to substitute the Deutschmark; hence the treaty helped him show his people that by signing it Germany had a substantial role in the EU and that to some extent its power and sovereignty were enhanced by it.



Baun, M.J. (1995) ‘The Maastricht Treaty as High Politics: Germany, France, and European Integration’ [online]. Available at: http://links.jstor.orgsici?sici=0032-3195%28199524%2F199624%29110%3A4%3C605%3ATMTAHP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2. Accessed on: 18 November 2010.

Best, E. (1994a) ‘The Treaty on European Union: What does it actually say and do?’ in Laursen, F. And Vanhoonacker, S. (eds.) The Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, London: Martinus Nijhoff Publisher.

Best, E. (1994b) ‘The United Kingdom and the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty’ in Laursen, F. And Vanhoonacker, S. (eds.) The Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, London: Martinus Nijhoff Publisher.

Delors, J. (1988) ‘A Common Objective’ in Cecchini, P., Catinat, M. And Jacquemin, A. The European Challenge 1992: the Benefits of a Single Market, Aldershot: Wildwood House.

Europa (2007) ‘The Treaty of Maastricht on European Union’ [online], Europa. Available at:http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/economic_and_monetary_affairs/institutional_and_economic_framework/treaties_maastricht_en.htm. Accessed on: 15 November 2010.

European NAvigator (n.d.) ‘The Treaty of Maastricht’ [online], European NAvigator. Available at: http://www.ena.lu/treaty_maastricht-2-16468. Accessed on: 15 November 2010.

Healey, N.M. (1995) Economics of the New Europe: from Community to Union, London: Routledge.

Laursen, F. (1994) ‘The not-so-permissive consensus: thoughts on the Maastricht Treaty and the future of European integration’ in Laursen, F. And Vanhoonacker, S. (eds.) The Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, London: Martinus Nijhoff Publisher.

McCormick, J. (2008) Understanding the European Union, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Vanhoonacker, S. (1994) ‘From Maastricht to Karlsruhe: the Long Road to Ratification’ in Laursen, F. And Vanhoonacker, S. (eds.) The Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, London: Martinus Nijhoff Publisher.

Written by: Morgane Griveaud
Written at: Royal Holloway, University of London
Written for: Dr Alister Miskimmon
Date written: December 2010

After more than 50 years of European integration, the Treaty of Lisbon is a new step forward but also a deeply contested concept. This essay begins with an overview of how the new Treaty came about and why it was seen as necessary, followed by an analysis of its new developments structured into four parts. Firstly, it considers how the LT is supposed to increase the EU’s effectiveness through more qualified majority voting, the co-decision procedure and through institutional changes including the creation of new leading positions. Secondly, democratic values are more clearly defined and roles of the European and national parliaments are reinforced. Thirdly, the LT has attempted to improve citizen’s rights, for example by the new citizens’ initiatives, as well as by making the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. Fourthly, the LT has introduced several political changes, including more cooperation on the common foreign and security policy and how to combat external threats as a global actor with a single voice. Moreover, this essay considers how the LT differs from the Constitutional Treaty, arguing that although no longer a formal constitution, it does maintain constitutional elements. It then looks at some specific issues; in particular, whether legitimacy, transparency and accountability have been improved, and takes the view that while this is the case to some extent, there remains much room to further improve. Finally, it also focuses on the EU’s future outlook in the light of the Lisbon Treaty’s amendments, arguing from an intergovernmentalist standpoint, as Member States seek EU cooperation in their own national interests.

After the much criticized Treaty of Nice, the Convention on the “Future of Europe” held in March 2001, followed by the Laeken Declaration in December 2001 marked the beginning of the big debate on European constitutionalism (Church, Phinnemore, 2010: 49). The process of treaty amendment had often caused political difficulties and many enthusiastic European politicians believed that change was necessary in order to improve the EU’s efficiency and its political institutions in the face of the enlargement process, while at the same time making the EU’s role easier to understand for its citizens (see speeches of Fischer, Chirac, Blair, Lipponen, 2003: 70-88). The Convention produced a “Draft treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe” which was to replace all previous treaties (Bale, 2008: 65). It was further revised by an intergovernmental conference (IGC) and signed in Rome in October 2004 (Kesselman, Krieger, 2009: 28). Eurosceptics criticized this development as an elitist lust for power in order to create a centralized, probably neo-liberal, superstate, replacing popular and national sovereignty (Church, Phinnemore, 2010: 49). It is, however, often overlooked that these reforms were more democratically devised than previous treaty reforms (ibid.). Perhaps, however, the EU’s decision-makers wanted to achieve too much in too little time. While transparency had been improved slightly through the Convention method (Risse, Kleine: 2007: 70), there was still too little thereof and many were afraid of new developments and argued that the Treaty method, though complicated, still seemed to work fairly well. The referenda in France and the Netherlands rejecting the CT were a huge setback for those who had so deeply endorsed it. During the so-called “period of reflection”, the German presidency strongly pushed for a plan that would preserve many of the CT’s innovations in the form of a traditional Treaty seeming less “constitutional” and so less alarming. The new Treaty was signed in Lisbon, December 2007. The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008 plunged the EU into a new crisis, but there was no reflection period this time and instead Ireland was asked to hold a second referendum. Though many doubted this would happen (The Economist [online], 2008, 19 June), the Lisbon Treaty was eventually ratified by all Member States and came into force December 1st, 2009. Intergovernmentalism is a useful line of thought in order to help understand why the EU ultimately returned to its orthodox treaty method (Dinan, 2007: 84). In short, it perceives European integration as an outcome of international bargaining, in which the main actors are national governments striving to accomplish their national preferences through cooperation (Cini, 2010: 87).

How does the Lisbon Treaty aim to increase the Union’s effectiveness in a world characterized by constant change? Firstly, in order to enhance its ability to act, especially in the view of enlargement, and make decisions more legitimate, the decision-making procedure is simplified and democratized (Europaforum.lu [online]: 10f.). Thus, qualified majority voting (QMV) has been extended to around 40 new policy fields in the Council of the EU, based on the principle of dual majority (ibid.). Decisions must be supported by 55% of the Member States representing 65% of the EU’s population, which is supposed to create more equality between countries with smaller and larger populations (Articles 9c(4) TEU & 205 TFEU). A blocking minority must consist of at least four states. Certain decisions will still be made unanimously (Europaforum.lu [online]: 10f.). The co-decision procedure allegedly puts the European Parliament on an equal footing with the Council, based on double legitimacy between EU citizens and Member States (Article 251 TFEU). Secondly, the EU is given a single legal status (Article 47, TEU). Article 1 amends the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 2 deals with the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), which it renames the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) (Church, Phinnemore, 2010: 56) . The European Community and its pillar system disappear and so does the Lisbon Treaty itself, leaving behind an EU with a strengthened potential for effective, credible and coherent external activity (Reh, 2009: 635). Thirdly, the LT defines the EU’s exclusive competences such as the customs union; its shared competences like the area of freedom, security and justice; as well as the competence to take supporting, coordinating or complementary action, as for example, in tourism and education (Europaforum.lu [online]: 12). A certain degree of flexibility of the Union is thus maintained (ibid.). Fourthly, enhanced cooperation within a group of at least nine Member States in a specific field is enabled, respecting the interests of various Member States (Articles 10 TEU & 280a-280i TFEU). Other Members may join later or choose to remain outside (ibid.). Fifthly, the LT entails several institutional changes. Now headed by a President elected every 2.5 years (currently Herman Van Rompuy), the European Council becomes a separate institution, which should increase its consistency and transparency (Article 9b TEU; Declaration 6, 28 Article 230 TFEU). From 2014, the number of Commissioners will be reduced to two-thirds of the number of Member States, based on an equal rota system every five years (Article 9d(5) TEU; Declaration 10), which is supposed to make it more effective. The newly-appointed High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, is the Vice-President of the Commission (Article 9e TEU), who is responsible for the EU’s common foreign and security policy and the common defence policy, giving the Union one voice.

One part of the Lisbon Treaty is devoted to the renewal of the democratic principles of the EU, to making its institutions more open and to increasing the influence of European citizens’ voices (Title II &III, TEU). The common values upon which the Union was founded are explicitly defined and clearly explained. All Member States must respect these values, conditio sine qua, and if they do not, they can be sanctioned by the European Court of Justice (Europaforum.lu [online]: 18). Moreover, the equality of Member States is respected and their national and regional identities are guaranteed autonomy (ibid.). Member States now have the official right to secession (Article 49a TEU), which signifies an important change and shows that the EU has not, as sceptics argue, turned into a power-hungry superstate. The roles of the European and national parliaments are reinforced in the light of strengthening the democracy and legitimacy of the Union (Europaforum.lu [online]: 19). The EP’s legislative and budgetary duties, as well as its function to monitor the Commission, are strengthened (ibid.). The co-decision procedure has been extended and standardized, reinforcing the EP’s legislative power (ibid.). A direct link between EP election results and the European Council’s candidate for the President of the Commission is established (Article 9d(7) TEU; Declaration 6 & 11). National parliaments’ rights and obligations have been clearly laid out and they are to be directly involved in the decision-making process (Europaforum.lu [online]: 19). EU legislative proposals must be in line with the principle of subsidiarity, which states that EU decisions must be taken at the closest possible level to its citizens (ibid: 21).

The LT also improves Citizens’ Rights by recalling rights that already existed and by introducing new ones, as well as mechanisms to guarantee that they are respected (Europaforum.lu [online]: 21). Citizens have the right to democratic equality and participatory democracy, which enables an open, transparent dialogue with groups of civil society, churches and other associations and organizations (ibid.). From 2011, if more than a million citizens establish an initiative, they can send a petition to the Commission to submit a legislative proposal to the EP and the Council for consideration concerning the implementation of Treaty objectives (Economist [online], 14 January 2010). The Council now meets in public for votes on draft legislation or for deliberation, and thus citizens are granted more transparency as they can actually see what decisions their government is taking (Europaforum.lu [online]: 21). The Lisbon Treaty also makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding, so it enjoys the same value as the treaties (Churche, Phinnemore, 2010: 58). These rights are enforced by the European Court of Justice but its application is restricted in Poland and the UK (ibid.). Additionally, the LT states that the EU will sign up to the independent European Convention on Human Rights (ibid.).

The Lisbon Treaty’s political changes strive to create a Union of freedom, security and justice based on the freedoms and fundamental rights of its citizens (Europaforum.lu [online]: 24). A high level of security needs to be maintained in order to ensure the free movement of citizens and combat crime and terrorism (ibid.). Almost all issues of great importance in this field are now decided by qualified majority voting and co-decision between the EP and the Council (ibid.). The LT confirms a joint immigration policy, a common asylum system, as well as a system to manage the Union’s external borders (ibid.). The High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy is supposed to enhance the organization and global visibility of the EU’s external action (ibid.). In addition, he or she has an external action service cooperating with national diplomatic services at their disposal (Article 27.3 TEU, Duff, 2007: 4). The competences of the Union’s common foreign and security policy are more clearly defined in the LT (Title V, TEU) and eventually the policy might lead to a system of common defence. Defence issues are still subject to the principle of unanimity (Article 42.4 TEU); however, Member States have an obligation to aid and assist another Member in the event of an armed aggression on its territory (Article 42.7). Moreover, Member States should show solidarity when a terrorist attack or a man-made disaster occurs within the Union occurs (Part V Title VII, article 222 TFEU). Furthermore, the LT also addresses the issue of Global Warming and includes a new section on the EU’s energy policy with a solidarity clause in case a Member State should suffer from problems of energy provision (Europaforum.lu [online]: 26-27). In addition, it enhances the EU’s social policy in many different areas and focuses on EU citizenship, clarifying that the latter compliments rather than replaces national citizenship (ibid: 27-29).

The rather dubious manner in which the EU went from constitutionalization to re-de-constitutionalization throws up several questions, in particular whether the Lisbon Treaty is really a de facto constitution and its differences from the Constitutional Treaty. Raz (1998) identifies “thin” and “thick” constitutions. A “thin” constitution is any law “that establishes and regulates the main organs of government, their constitution and their powers” (Raz, 1998: 153). Thus, European primary law qualifies as a “thin” constitution; as the Treaties make the regulations for the institutions of government, explain their competences and decision-making rules and relationships (Reh, 2009: 628). According to Andenas, there has been a “constitution ever since it [the EU] was constituted” (2002: 102).  Raz suggests seven criteria to identify a “thick” constitution, namely whether it is: constitutive, stable, written, superior, justiciable, entrenched, and whether there exists a common ideology (1998: 153f.), which Reh bundles into three functional categories: formal (includes codification, constitution and continuity), material (entails the definitions and institutionalization of the principles of government), and symbolic (public recognition and acceptance) (Reh, 2009: 629f.). Looking at a constitution regarding these functions de-couples it from the national level (ibid: 630).

Considering all the implications of the Lisbon Treaty, it does not fundamentally change the status quo and a lot of the original Constitutional Treaty’s content was preserved; however, the LT includes some significant new aspects. The symbolic category mentioned above that existed in the CT, containing constitutional language, a European anthem and flag, was removed. Moreover, the LT’s function is to amend rather than replace the previous Treaties. The Lisbon Treaty itself actually disappears, leaving behind the amended TEU and the TFEU, now forming one legal personality, as well as 13 legally-binding Protocols (five of which were originally in the CT), an Annex, a Final Act, and 65 Declarations (Church, Phinnemore, 2010: 56). Therefore, the LT adds to rather than reduces the complexity of the EU. While there is a “constitutional feel” to many parts of the LT, it is not a formal Constitution. More accurately, the Lisbon Treaty is part of an evolving, underlying, informal or “thin”, small-c European constitution, similar to that of Britain but based on a different framework (Weiler, 2002: 567). There is little point in labelling the LT either as “Europe’s Constitution in all but name” or as the Constitution’s failure (Reh, 2009: 327). A formal Constitution alone is not a guarantor for a more efficient democracy; instead, democratic patterns are rooted in the real underlying constitution (Erk, 2007: 634). In other words, had the Constitutional Treaty been enforced, it would not of necessarily have brought drastic change either, as democracy is an evolving process and cannot be expected to happen from one day to the other.

How much success have the LT’s new developments shown so far and is it really the Treaty of Treaties? While the LT has definitely taken a step forward in combating the democratic deficit, increasing qualified majority voting and Citizens’ Rights on paper does not really make citizens feel more included in EU negotiations and policy-making. For the vast majority of people, the EU is still, if not even more so, a vague set of institutions based in far-away Brussels, consisting of unknown and overpaid spokespeople taking decisions to their own advantage. The Lisbon Treaty, though it is supposed to simplify, is so complex in itself that it does not make the Union easier to understand for someone without a degree in law, and it has hardly changed awareness of the EU (The Economist [online], 25 June 2007; Carr, 2009). Not many EU citizens are really aware of their rights as such, which, for example, enable them to submit a petition to the EP or write a letter to an EU institution. As long as this is the case, there will be a continuing debate on the issue of legitimacy as well as the democratic deficit. By creating more popular European media, including newspapers and TV channels that actually have more to offer than EuroNews, for example, EU citizens might be made more aware of what it means to be an EU citizen and of EU policies. Concerning the prospect of a more equal footing between bigger and smaller Member States, recent events have shown that it is mostly countries like Germany and France that actually influence policies (i.e. Irish budgetary crisis, BBC News [online], 22 November 2010). Due to the importance of the German economy, it is likely to keep and increase its influential status within the Union. With regard to the EU as a global actor with a common foreign and security policy, the capability-expectation gap (Hill, 1993) of the EU is still wide, though somewhat strengthened by the creation of a High Representative and the President of the Council. Recalling the different European opinions on recent conflicts, such as Kosovo and Iraq 2003, a strong common foreign and security policy representing the whole of Europe is not easy to imagine and thus further developments in this area will be an exciting issue. Furthermore, while the Lisbon Treaty was supposed to be the last of its kind for a while, less than a year since its enforcement there has already been talk of yet another necessary Treaty revision (The Economist [online], 21 October 2010; 4 November 2010). Largely inspired by the Germans and Angela Merkel in particular, the Commission has proposed intensifying the monitoring of national budgets and economic imbalances and a system of warnings and sanctions (ibid.).

In conclusion, this essay has studied how internally the Lisbon Treaty aims to create more effectiveness, particularly by increasing qualified majority voting and the co-decision procedure of the European Parliament, how it strives to enhance democratic values and provide political changes to improve the Union’s policies in fields such as economics, social welfare and environmentalism, while externally its goal is to strengthen the EU as a global actor with one voice. After the failure of the Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty can be seen as part of the EU’s evolving constitution. The rapid process from euphoric constitutionalism to de-constitutionalization, can be explained by European national parliaments’ preference for intergovernmentalism, which encompasses a state-centric approach and sees international bargaining in the form of treaty negotiations as central to the European integration process. The Lisbon Treaty has not brought a revolutionary reform. The democratic deficit, though slightly improved, still has a long way to go, in terms of transparency, openness and public awareness of EU politics. It can be criticized for the tremendous complexity in itself, which doesn’t really succeed in bringing the idea of a united Europe and what it entails closer to the people. Moreover, the LT includes the right to secession, stresses the role of national parliaments as well as subsidiarity and proportionality, and first and foremost EU citizens are citizens of their respective countries. The domestic-supranational gap has been widened rather than narrowed (Reh, 2009: 637). At the moment, the Union is thus still far from becoming a “United States of Europe”. It is also unlikely that the LT will remain the “Treaty of Treaties”, as there is already talk of further change. In a nutshell, the Union is still far from reaching finalité politique.


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Written by: Nicola-Ann Hardwick
Written at: Royal Holloway, University of London
Written for: Dr Alistor Miskimmon
Date written: November 2010

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