Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Viewpoints: Lisbon Treaty impact

All but a few of the EU's 27 member states have ratified the Lisbon Treaty, which is aimed at streamlining EU institutions.

But the controversial treaty will not come into force unless all of them do so - and it still has to run the gauntlet of a second Irish referendum later this year. Irish voters rejected it last June. No other country put the treaty to a referendum.

Here, as part of a series of viewpoints on EU issues, two European think-tank experts argue for and against the treaty.


The Lisbon Treaty will give Europe more democracy, more capacity to decide and act and more international prominence.

Jean-Dominique Giuliani

It will give national parliaments control over the European Commission. The commission will not be able to act in areas not expressly set out in the treaties - for example, hunting or even the size of bird cages!

The people will get the chance to petition, to oblige the commission to scrap a decision. The European Parliament, the only institution directly elected by the people, will gain more power - in 40 new areas, for example the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU budget. It will have the power to elect the president of the European Commission.

The treaty will improve efficiency. The new voting rules will take account of the weight of the different member states. So the UK, France and Germany will have greater voting rights in the European Council, where ministers make decisions.

A bill will require the support of 55% of the member states, representing at least 65% of the European population.

The so-called "majority rule" for Council decisions will be extended to more areas. That means quicker decisions and fewer blockages.

This treaty is not a constitution - it neither sets up a new constitutional order nor a supranational state

With the Lisbon Treaty, the European people will for the first time be able to challenge the power of European institutions.

National parliaments will be able to challenge decisions that are the prerogative of member states. Under Lisbon, if one-third of the national parliaments agree on something, they can act together to oblige the Commission to cancel and review a wrong decision. They will also be able to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

Parliaments are legally entitled to ratify treaties and international conventions - there is no particular need for national referendums on European issues. Those who ask for referendums want to vote against the EU and their own government.

Referendums are really populist procedures. People use them to answer different questions - not the actual referendum questions.

Did Tony Blair ask by referendum to be allowed to send troops into Iraq? Did Margaret Thatcher ask by referendum to be allowed to carry out social reforms? Did Winston Churchill ask the English people to engage his country against Hitler? No. They all went to parliament, to have a debate and make the best decision. That is also what Sarkozy, Brown and Merkel did.

This treaty is not a constitution. It neither sets up a new constitutional order nor a supranational state. It only brings in new procedures, to improve the decision-making process. These innovations are needed to act better at the European level.

Jean-Dominique Giuliani is Chairman of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris.


The Lisbon Treaty represents a huge transfer of powers away from EU member states and is bad news for Europe.

Lorraine Mullally

In more than 60 areas of policy, countries lose the right to veto legislation they disagree with - on everything from transport to the rights of criminal suspects and aspects of foreign policy.

Britain would lose nearly 30% of its power to block legislation it disagrees with, while Ireland would lose 40%.

It is a myth that the EU Lisbon Treaty will strengthen democracy in Europe.

The President of the German Constitutional Court has said the treaty's provisions for national parliaments are "ineffective" and "impractical".

The cross-party House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee said: "We doubt the significance of the 'greater opportunities' for national parliaments to be involved in any meaningful manner in the workings of the EU".

The treaty is bad enough in itself, but it is the way it is being forced through that really demonstrates why EU institutions should not be given yet more new powers.

Most people now realise that the Lisbon Treaty is a carbon copy of the original Constitutional Treaty that was voted down in both France and the Netherlands in 2005. Open Europe's side-by-side comparison of the two texts found that 96% of the original reappears in the Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty will make it even more difficult to reform the EU in the long run, by ignoring the problems with waste, the lack of transparency and accountability

The author of the text himself, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, has confirmed this several times, saying Lisbon "is purely a legal re-writing - incidentally unreadable - of the draft Constitutional Treaty". And he revealed the reason for this: "Above all, it is to avoid having referendums".

Indeed, despite several governments initially promising to give their people a say on the treaty, Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum, because it is constitutionally obliged to do so.

There 53% of people said "No", but they will be forced to vote again. One leading German politician said the No vote was "a real cheek", while a British Labour MP said the Irish voted No because they had "become extremely arrogant".

It is not just Irish voters who are concerned about the treaty.

Judges at the German Constitutional Court recently pointed out that the treaty involves a clear extension of the EU's competences. One judge said: "One has to ask soberly: What competences are left with the Bundestag [German lower house of parliament] in the end?" He also asked "whether it would not be more honest to just proclaim a European federal state".

The Lisbon Treaty will make it even more difficult to reform the EU in the long run, by ignoring the problems with waste, the lack of transparency and accountability, the outdated policies; and by cementing the status quo. The EU needs urgent reform, not more powers.

Lorraine Mullally is Director of Open Europe, in the UK.

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