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Treaty of Lisbon

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The Lisbon Treaty was signed in 2007 and came into force in 2009. It is the most recent of the EU treaties. It amended previous treaties, reformed the structure of the EU and changed the way it functioned. The treaty was agreed after earlier attempts to reform the EU by creating a European constitution failed.

On 29 October 2004, the heads of the EU’s then 25 member states signed the Treaty for the Establishment of a Constitution in Europe (the EU Constitution). It was intended to create a more simple foundation for the European Union, strengthening the role of the EU institutions. However critics saw it as a move towards the formation of a super-state. In June 2005, France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution, causing the project to stall.

European leaders supportive of an EU constitution explored other means of introducing similar changes.  Developments culminated at the EU summit of June 2007, under the German presidency of the European Council, when constitutional issues were brought back onto the agenda and all EU states agreed on drafting a new Treaty. This was achieved and signed in Lisbon in December 2007 and is therefore known as the Lisbon Treaty.

The treaty then needed to be ratified by all EU member states. In June 2008 Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum. To encourage Ireland to ratify the treaty the EU promised protocols would be added to clarify that changes would not alter powers of states regarding tax, would allow Ireland to remain militarily neutral and would not affect certain rights guaranteed in the constitution of Ireland. Ireland then ratified the treaty with a second referendum in October 2009.

Before Germany ratified the Lisbon Treaty, the German Parliament passed laws to strengthen its role in implementing EU policy to ensure that the EU could not exceed the powers given to it. The President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, used delaying tactics as he opposed the treaty. Nevertheless, the Czech Republic became the last member state to ratify the treaty on 3 November 2009.

What did the Treaty of Lisbon achieve?

The Lisbon Treaty came into force in December 2009. It introduced a number of significant changes to the EU institutions and the way the EU functions.

Changes to the Institutions:

  • The Lisbon Treaty created a permanent President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The President of the European Council is appointed by the Council for two and a half year terms, and cannot be a head of state or government. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs automatically gains membership to the European Commission as a Vice President, but does not have the power to independently generate policy. A new European External Action Service was created to support the High Representative.
  • The European Court of Justice (ECJ) became part of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which was created as the EU’s judiciary. The Court of Justice had its jurisdiction extended into all EU policy areas except foreign and security policy, allowing it full jurisdiction over justice and home affairs for the first time. The UK secured an ability to opt out of police co-operation and the option to opt into legislation relating to judicial issues.