Understanding the Lisbon European Council and the Reform Treaty

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

The draft Reform Treaty, adopted by the EU 27 at the Lisbon Council on 18 and 19 October is “modest but makes it possible to break the institutional stalemate”, writes Jean-Dominique Giuliani in an October paper from the Robert Schuman Foundation.

Following the rejection of the European Constitution, EU leaders decided under the German Presidency to prepare a Reform Treaty before the end of the year. This treaty has to be ratified by member states by 2009, recalls the author. 

Following a “labourious political compromise”, an Intergovernmental Conference (ICG) was given the mandate to provide a legal framework for a treaty to reform the existing Treaties. This mandate also included guarantees for eurosceptic governments, in the shape of restrictive interpretations, and even via precise details designed to prevent any ‘incursion’ of Union competences into the domain of state prerogatives, the author says. 

The Reform Treaty therefore introduces a number of institutional innovations taken from the rejected Constitution, plus some significant modifications, believes Giuliani. For example, the Charter of Fundamental Rights is not part of the Treaties but an article provides it with an obligatory legal value by defining its range of application. 

The main reforms are the following: 

  • President of the Council appointed for two and a half years; 
  • High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who will have the same prerogatives as the Union’s Foreign Minister and will be a vice president of the European Commission; 
  • the double majority system will be used for decisions taken by the Council of Ministers as of 2014; 
  • the number of European Commissioners  will be reduced from 27 to 18 as of 2014;
  • an increase in the powers of the European Parliament, thanks to the introduction of a general co-decision procedure in the legislative arena, 
  • enhanced control of subsidiarity by national parliaments, who will take part in European legislative procedures;
  • the obligatory nature of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in all member states except the UK and Poland; and;
  • Popular initiative by means of the right to petition. 

The new treaty is only a modification of the existing Treaties. It does not break away from the previous Treaties but rather “heralds their competition”, concludes Giuliani. 

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