Treaty of Lisbon: A sustainable answer to constitutional questions?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Treaty of Lisbon represents “another milestone” towards further EU integration in a journey which started over 20 years ago with the Single European Act, write Andreas Hofmann and Wolfgang Wessels of the University of Cologne in an article for ‘Integration’ magazine.  

The authors consider whether the new Treaty of Lisbon offers a sustainable and conclusive answer to the “triple dilemma” of EU constitutional reform and explore whether the reform process is “completed” by the new treaty as claimed in its preamble.

Hofmann and Wessels explain that, similar to its predecessors, the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice, the Lisbon Treaty aims to:

  • Enhance the efficiency of the EU;
  • strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the Union, and;  
  • optimise the distribution of competences within the multi-level system of the European Union.

The authors claim that each of these areas is dominated by a dilemma which also shows up in the treaty, namely the desire for more efficiency versus the member states insistence on retaining their right to make the final decision, for example by a veto in the Council. 

The question of legitimacy can be answered by directly legitimising the EU institutions or, as often preferred at national level, deriving legitimacy via national parliaments, they argue.

The authors acknowledge the fact that the EU may be the best level at which to solve certain problems but the national level must also focus on preserving the sovereignty of the nation state so that the competences of the EU remain restricted.

Still, Hofmann and Wessels argue that progress has been made by the new treaty in all these fields: there will be more capacity for the Union to act as well as more democratic participation. But, they say, it remains to be seen if and how European and national policymakers make use of the new text – and especially whether there will be unexpected effects of “untested changes” compared to the Nice Treaty.

Even without such potential spin-offs, the authors conclude by giving two more reasons why the Treaty of Lisbon will probably not be the last reform treaty. 

First, newly created instruments might lead to pressure for further reforms, they believe, and second, the recent treaty does not fix the EU ‘constitution’, they argue. Even though the Council dropped this idea after the failure of the Constitutional Treaty, the debate on this issue will nevertheless go on, they add.

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