Debunking the Lisbon Treaty: the fact and the fiction

The Treaty of Lisbon has attracted more than its fair share of media controversy. Even by the standards of previous European Treaties, the level of scepticism expressed at least in the press has been significant. Inevitably, the commentary has been fuelled by political agendas and, whilst sometimes informative, can often be inaccurate or misinformed. This is the first in a series of articles in which we attempt to debunk the myth about the Treaty of Lisbon and to explain why it might be relevant to you. Firstly, a little background.

3rd April 2008

The Treaty of Lisbon has attracted more than its fair share of media controversy. Even by the standards of previous European Treaties, the level of scepticism expressed at least in the press has been significant. Inevitably, the commentary has been fuelled by political agendas and, whilst sometimes informative, can often be inaccurate or misinformed. This is the first in a series of articles in which we attempt to debunk the myth about the Treaty of Lisbon and to explain why it might be relevant to you. Firstly, a little background.

Background
Signed on 13 December 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon courted political controversy from the outset, as the legacy of its aborted predecessor, the then proposed new EU Constitution. That initiative, it will be recalled, had ended in debacle at the hand of the Dutch and French, voting in their respective national referenda, to reject the proposed Constitution. In the absence of unanimity, the new Constitution could not enter into force. The political stalemate gave rise to an official "period of reflection", which has now given birth to the Treaty of Lisbon.

What does the new Treaty Do?
The Treaty of Lisbon aims fundamentally to restructure and simplify the European Union. Traditionally, the European Union has been structured into three "pillars", consisting of (i) the European Communities (first pillar); (ii) the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (the second pillar); and (iii) the rather wordy, Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters (the third pillar). Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the three pillar structure will be simplified.

Changes are introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon in fundamentally at improving the democracy, transparency and efficiency of the European Union, including increasing the legislative power and relevance of the European Parliament itself and extending its powers over the entirety of the EU budget. At the same time, it is envisaged that there will be greater engagement of the national Parliaments of Member States, which it is intended will contribute more actively in the functioning of the Union. The size of the Commission is to be reduced with a view to increased efficiency and effectiveness and the Council of the EU will be abolished and replaced by two new Institutions, the European Council and the Council of Ministers, with a greater emphasis on public transparency. A new elected post will be created, in the form of the President of the European Council, who will undertake, for a 2½ year term of office, the role of co-ordinating the work of the Council and presenting the public face of the Council and European Union to the outside world. This is the role it will be recalled for which Tony Blair, amongst others, has been touted as a possible candidate in the press.

More substantively, there are provisions in the Treaty of Lisbon which will give binding effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and which give new formal recognition to the objective of combating climate change.

Why is the Treaty relevant to me?
The Treaty of Lisbon, when it formally comes in to force, will in effect introduce detailed amendments to the EU Treaties. These changes are of direct relevance, not only to the Institutional structure and powers of the European Union, but also to specific areas, including the energy sector, financial services, sport and competition and state aid. Watch this space for further discussion of the importance and relevance of the Lisbon Treaty in each of these areas.

Conclusion
The Treaty of Lisbon will make significant amendments to the European Treaties. In doing so, it is designed to increase the efficiency, organisation and transparency of the European Union, at the same time having a specific bearing on a number of particular sectors, including energy and financial services. The Lisbon Treaty has been the subject of significant controversy, not least in light of the controversy which surrounded its predecessor, the proposed EU Constitution.

To its critics, the Treaty of Lisbon is a thinly disguised revamp of its predecessor, addressed instead as an amending Treaty and without the pomp and symbolism which led to the downfall of the Constitution. There may be some truth in that criticism. It might equally be asked, however, why the very prospect of a European Constitution should apparently give rise to such anxiety. Constitutions, as one commentator has put it, are necessary requirements for the smooth running of many organisations, whether that be the local sailing club or supra-national unions of states. The goals of the new Treaty – increased efficiency, organisation and transparency – do not in themselves in any event appear objectionable. In future articles, we will try to give an informed and balanced perspective on the likely impact of some of the Treaty's more detailed provisions.