Q&A: The Lisbon Treaty
Leaders of the European Union's 27 member states meet in Portugal
this week to sign what will now become known as the Lisbon Treaty.
Originally called the Reform Treaty, it was drawn up to replace the
draft European constitution after that was thrown out by voters in
France and the Netherlands in 2005.
All 27 EU countries will be expected to ratify the Treaty in 2008
with a view to it coming into force in 2009.
How similar will the new treaty be to the draft constitution?
It contains many of the changes the constitution attempted to
introduce, for example:
A politician chosen to be president of the European Council for
two-and-a-half years, replacing the current system where countries
take turns at being president for six months
A new post combining the jobs of the existing foreign affairs
supremo, Javier Solana, and the external affairs commissioner,
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, to give the EU more clout on the world stage
A smaller European Commission, with fewer commissioners than there
are member states, from 2014
A redistribution of voting weights between the member states, phased
in between 2014 and 2017
New powers for the European Commission, European Parliament and
European Court of Justice, for example in the field of justice and
Removal of national vetoes in a number of areas
Most European leaders acknowledge that the main substance of the
constitution will be preserved.
If it contains the same substance, why is the Lisbon Treaty not a
The constitution attempted to replace all earlier EU treaties and
start afresh, whereas the new treaty amends the Treaty on the
European Union (Maastricht) and the Treaty Establishing the European
It also drops all reference to the symbols of the EU - the flag,
the anthem and the motto - though these will continue to exist.
How long has it taken to agree the treaty?
The effort to draft a constitution began in February 2002 and took
two-and-a-half years, but that text became obsolete when it was
rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
Work began in earnest on a replacement treaty during the German EU
presidency, in the first half of 2007, and agreement on the main
points of the new treaty was reached at a summit in June.
Negotiations continued behind the scenes over the following months
before a final draft was agreed by the leaders of the 27 member
states in October.
Why was the constitution dropped?
France and the Netherlands said they would be unable to adopt the
constitutional treaty without significant changes, following the
The UK also pressed hard for a modest "amending treaty", which could
be ratified by means of a parliamentary vote, like earlier EU
Could the Lisbon Treaty also end up being rejected?
Yes. If just one of the EU's 27 member states fails to ratify the
treaty, it cannot come into force.
This time, most countries plan to ratify the treaty in parliament,
which is less likely to cause an upset than holding a referendum.
So far only one country, Ireland, has said it will definitely hold
Although Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001, most observers
believe a comfortable majority will back the Reform Treaty in summer
Although Denmark had been planning to have a referendum on the
constitution, the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that
it would not be necessary to have a vote on the treaty because a
government investigation had concluded no transfer of sovereignty
Will the Lisbon Treaty transfer powers from national governments
to the EU?
Although the Danish government would say there is no transfer of
sovereignty, opinions differ.
The EU exists by virtue of the fact that countries agree to pool
sovereignty in certain areas.
The new treaty deepens co-operation in some areas, and extends it
to new areas.
Does the Charter of Fundamental Rights feature in the new treaty?
No. There will be a reference to it, making it legally binding, but
the full text does not appear, even in an annex.
The UK has secured a written guarantee that the charter cannot be
used by the European Court to alter British labour law, or other
laws that deal with social rights. However, experts are divided on
how effective this will be.
Are any countries seeking opt-outs?
Ireland and the UK currently have an opt-out from European policies
concerning asylum, visas and immigration. Under the new treaty they
will have the right to opt in or out of any policies in the entire
field of justice and home affairs.
Poland is also due to sign up to the guarantees on the Charter of
Fundamental Rights negotiated by the UK.
Denmark will continue with its existing opt-out from justice and
home affairs, but will gain the right under the new treaty to opt
for the pick-and-choose system.
The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has announced
that a referendum will be held during the lifetime of the existing
parliament on scrapping his country's opt-outs.
When will the new treaty kick in?
The treaty should come into force in 2009 but different parts will
take effect at different times:
The High Representative on foreign affairs could start work by late
2008, as long as the treaty has been ratified.
The new-look European Parliament would not appear until after the
European elections in June 2009. In fact, that poll will be seen
partly as an endorsement of the new arrangements.
The new president of the European Council could also start work at
Although a new commission will be chosen in 2009, its size may not
be slimmed down until 2014.
Some extensions of qualified majority voting (QMV) in the European
Council are already in place, such as the appointment of the
commission president and the High Representative for Common Foreign
and Security Policy - but Poland's objections over voting weights
mean the redistribution of votes will not come in until after 2014
Some of the higher profile aspects of the treaty could begin to
appear by the end of 2008 but it could be 10 years before the process
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/13 15:28:58 GMT
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