Treaty of Lisbon

In October 2004 the European Council signed the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, the goal of which was to create a constitution for Europe to replace the multitude of existing treaties and more clearly restructure the legal foundation of the EU.

The aim was to make the EU more efficient in decision-making, more transparent, more democratic, and closer to citizens. But in May and June 2005 the Constitutional Treaty was rejected in popular referendums in France and the Netherlands. In June 2007 the heads of state and governments of the EU mem-ber states agreed in principle to replace the original Constitutional Treaty with a new EU Reform Treaty. The most important institutional innovations of the Constitutional Treaty were maintained so that the decision-making ability, efficiency, and proximity to the citizenry would be adequately guaranteed in a growing EU. On 13 December 2007, the EU member states signed the new treaty in Portugal, which became known as the Treaty of Lisbon. The treaty was to be ratified by all member states by 2009. However, in the first vote on the treaty, in June 2008, Irish voters rejected it. Following concessions made by the European Council to Ireland, the Irish government called a new vote on 2 October 2009, in which the treaty was endorsed. After ratification of the treaty by Poland and lastly the Czech Republic, it came into force on 1 December 2009.

The Treaty of Lisbon did not replace earlier treaties. Instead, it amended the treaties that form the constitutional basis of the EU, which were newly renamed the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The Treaty of Lisbon abolished the existing three-pillar model and replaced the European Community with the European Union. The Treaty of Lisbon created the post of a permanent President of the European Council (committee of heads of state and government). The President chairs EU summits, which are held at least four times a year. In the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy, the High Represen-tative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, together with the President of the European Council, represents the EU’s foreign policy. The High Representative is also one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Commission. Whereas the European Council now has a permanent president who is elected for two and a half years (with the possibility of a single extension of this term), the Council of the EU (committee of ministers in various constellations, also referred to as the Council or Council of Ministers, has continued with a semi-annual rotating presidency held by a member state. The Foreign Affairs Council is an exception; it is chaired by the High Represen-tative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Treaty of Lisbon: key points

  • Proximity to citizens and democracy: The European Parliament, which represents the citizens of the EU, received more co-decision rights. The European Citizens’ Initiative makes it possible for citizens who have gathered one million signatures from nationals of at least one-quarter of the EU member states to call directly on the EU Commission to make a legislative proposal. Furthermore, the Charter of Fundamental Rights is declared legally binding by reference to the Treaty on European Union (TEU).
  • Capacity to act and transparency: The use of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers has been expanded to more policy areas and newly defined. Taking effect in 2014 and gradually imple-mented until 2017, qualified voting majority refers to a double majority of at least 55% of all member states comprising at least 65% of the population. The European Council gained the status of an independent EU institution headed by a specifically appointed president. The president is appointed for a two and a half year term and may be reappointed once. The post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has been newly created to be the main coordinator of EU foreign policy. The High Representative is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS), which commenced work on 1 December 2010. The EEAS is composed of officials of the EU and the national diplomatic services of member states. The purpose of this structure was to make EU foreign policy more coherent and consistent.
  • Simplification of structure: The three-pillar system of the EU has been merged into the EU. The EU has obtained a consolidated legal personality, which allows it to enter into contracts with third countries such as Switzerland.
  • Federalism and division of powers: The division of competences between the EU and its member states has been clarified and simplified. At the same time, the role of national parliaments in the EU’s legislative process has been strengthened.
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights: The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was legally equated to the EU Treaties by the Treaty of Lisbon. It has since become binding for all member states in the application of EU law.

Additional information