The Treaty of Lisbon was signed by the democratically elected leaders of the European Union states in the eponymous city on the 13th of December, 2007 and aims to streamline the Union and make in much more democratic.
It has faced great criticism in the press for being a "Stealth Constitution" to produce a Federal Europe. Supporters claim that it simply makes the existing institutions more efficient while adding some more democratic procedures.
The need for some form of reform became acute after the expansion of the Union from 15 to 27 states – yet the nature of that reform is still controversial. The EU already seems to have most of the trappings of a federation including common borders, currency, Union (aka federal?) laws and a European (“Supreme”) Court. The Treaty of Lisbon would add to this a common legal identity, foreign policy and President.
The actual treaty itself is somewhat huge and difficult to understand. Here are the key points that I think I have managed to dredge out of it.
Rights and Values, Freedom, Solidarity and Security
- If a petition with one million signatures is presented to the EU, it will be treated as if a Prime Minister just proposed a new law.
- The Parliament – directly elected by the people - will have more power over the EU laws, the EU budget and international agreements. Most importantly the “co-decision procedure” will make sure the European Parliament is placed on an equal footing with the Council, (made up of the democratically elected Prime Ministers of each state), for EU law making.
- The rule of “subsidiarity” will only let the Union act where it makes sense for rules to be made at European level. If only one third of the state parliaments decide the EU should stay out of given area – then that is what will happen.
- Withdrawal from the Union: the Treaty of Lisbon explicitly recognises for the first time the right for a Member State to withdraw from the Union if it wishes.
- The Charter of Rights explicitly sets out the rights of the citizen to, among other things fair treatment, freedom of speech, fair trials and democratic representation. This is called the "four freedoms".
- “Solidarity between the States”: If a Member State is the subject of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster, all the states of Europe must be ready to help. Also if a country is short of energy the others should help out
- Security: New rules on civil protection, humanitarian aid and public health allow the EU to take action if people are seen as in danger.
A Face for the Union
- A President will be elected for two and a half years. S/he will be elected by the democratically elected Prime Ministers and then must be approved by the directly elected European Parliament. The President's job will mainly be to mediate between the states and stop them arguing all the time. S/he will also be the “face” and spokesperson of the Union.
- The Vice-President will also have the rather flashy title of “High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” and will have the unenviable job of negotiating with other countries, groups etc. Basically s/he will be the EU Foreign Minister.
- A single legal personality for the Union will strengthen the Union's negotiating power, meaning that the EU can pack more of a punch. Saying you represent 500,000,000 citizens and 27 states sounds more impressive than 61,000,000 and 1.
- The “European Security and Defence Policy” is a set of arrangements so that the Union states can work quickly together in case of emergencies or interventions and share important information.