The Lisbon Treaty

Reactions to the Lisbon Treaty - Read excerpts from articles reflecting on the Lisbon Treaty and its impact.

Background on the Lisbon Treaty

After the failure of the European Constitution, the EU endeavored to revitalize its union through the Treaty of Lisbon. The Lisbon Treaty was drafted in the Portuguese capital and then signed on 13 December 2007. In November 2009, the Czech Republic became the last of the 27 EU member states to ratify the treaty, and it entered into effect on 1 December 2009.

The Lisbon Treaty introduces significant institutional changes and is designed to streamline the decision-making process in the EU, which now has many more member states than when the institutions were created. Moreover, the treaty introduces the positions of a permanent EU President (rather than the six-month rotating presidency) and the High Representative in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Finally, the Lisbon Treaty gives full legal personality to the European Union.

The new EU president will be appointed by the European Council for a term of two and a half years, with a maximum of two terms per individual. This should reinforce accountability and stability in the Union. It is not yet certain the exact extent of power that the president will wield. However, this innovation could be an important step forward in EU-US relations, giving the US President an EU counterpart with whom to communicate.

The position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is also strengthened and redesigned by the Lisbon Treaty. The appointed official will be at the same time the European Commissioner for External Relations, Vice-President of the Commission, and Chair of the Council of Ministers in its foreign affairs configuration. This combines the foreign policy aspects of the Council and the Commission, which should lead to much better cooperation between the two bodies and reinforce the EU’s coherence in external action and foreign policy. The High Representative will also be supported by the European External Action Service (EEAS), a diplomatic service similar to the US Foreign Service. The EEAS will be composed of officials from the Council, the Commission, and the diplomatic service of the Member States. The EEAS will better support the EU’s efforts towards a unified foreign policy. Furthermore, effective agreement with the United States is more likely to be reached when the EU has a more cohesive position. For more information on the newly created position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy click here.

The directly-elected European Parliament also receives new powers under the Lisbon Treaty. The areas in which the Parliament has a say equal in weight to the Council of Ministers (co-decision procedure) are increased, and the Parliament will be also consulted on budgetary matters and international agreements.

Meanwhile, the national parliaments will be given greater say through a new monitoring mechanism designed to ensure that matters are dealt with on the lowest government level reasonably possible (the principle of subsidiarity). The national parliaments will be able to give input at the earliest stages of the legislative procedure.

In an additional enhancement of democracy, the Lisbon Treaty introduces the “citizens’ initiative,” which will allow millions of citizens to request the Commission to formulate a policy proposal.

The treaty also extends and renews qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers. It will become the main method of decision making, reducing the number of decisions requiring a unanimous vote. In qualified majority voting, a “double majority” is needed. This means that at least 55% of Member States, representing at least 65% of the EU’s population, must support a proposal for it to be passed. This prevents the most populous states from making decisions without taking into account the smaller states, but also prevents one or two states from preventing action by requiring a unanimous decision. Nevertheless, in areas considered crucial to member states' interests, such as tax, foreign policy, defense, and social security, unanimity is still required.

In the Lisbon Treaty, EU member states agreed to provide civilian and military resources for the implementation of the EU’s Common Security and Defence operations. Military capabilities remain under state control, however, so the resources will be given only through states’ agreement. In this regard, a lot remains to be done to reinforce the transatlantic community relations.

In addition, the Lisbon Treaty makes the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. This creates an extensive set of common rights for all citizens of the EU. Finally, the Lisbon Treaty gives member states the right to unilaterally withdraw from the European Union, though of course the EU hopes that no state will take advantage of this clause.

The Lisbon Treaty entered into effect on 1 December 2009. Its many changes will streamline the EU decision-making process and update the European institutions to better handle the enlarged union of 27 member states. Many Europeans have high hopes that the treaty will also allow the EU to be a more effective player on the international stage, and therefore an even better partner for the United States.

The Lisbon Treaty and Enhanced Cooperation

A particularly important innovation of the Lisbon Treaty is the modified provision for enhanced cooperation. Enhanced cooperation was established by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999 and allows member states to more closely cooperate among themselves using the common EU institutions. When there is not a majority to approve a decision binding all the states, one third of them can ask to cooperate anyway. This way they can make common decisions binding for them, even in fields in which other states prefer not to cooperate. As Article 10 points out: “Enhanced cooperation shall aim to further the objectives of the Union, protect its interests and reinforce its integration process. Such cooperation shall be open at any time to all Member States.” Due to the difficult procedure, however, this possibility has never been used. The Lisbon Treaty introduces simplifications that would allow it to enter into practice.

The Lisbon Treaty also introduces the possibility of enhanced cooperation within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In such a case, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy must be informed, at which point he/she will give an opinion on whether the enhanced cooperation proposed is consistent with the Union’s CFSP.

The enhanced cooperation provision could acquire central importance because it allows those countries that wish it to further their common goals in foreign policy. This could lead the way to a more cohesive security policy. Also, it could lead to a common single foreign policy.


  • The Delegation of the European Union to the United States published a compendium on the Lisbon Treaty in October 2009.
  • The Centre for European Reform published a guide to the Lisbon Treaty in October 2007.
  • The complete text of the Lisbon Treaty is available here