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EUROPA > Treaty of Lisbon > Questions and answers

Questions and answers

Hands together with a blue image of the map of Europe.Why does Europe need the Treaty of Lisbon?

To realise its full potential, the European Union needs to modernise and reform. The European Union of 27 members is operating with rules designed for an EU of 15. Over the last decade, the European Union has been looking for the right way forward to optimise the instruments at its disposal and reinforce its capacity to act.

At the same time, there is increasing support for the EU to work together on issues that affect us all, such as climate change, energy security and international terrorism. As the EU has grown and its responsibilities have changed, it makes sense to update the way in which it works. Welcome improvements delivered by the Treaty would include giving the EU the means to tackle today's challenges in today's world.

There are three fundamental reasons for the Treaty: more efficiency in the decision-making process; more democracy through a greater role for the European Parliament and national parliaments; and increased coherence externally. All of these will equip the EU to better promote the interests of its citizens on a day-to-day basis.

Couple walking in a crowd.What does the Treaty of Lisbon change for citizens?

The Treaty of Lisbon reinforces the Union's capacity to act through strengthened external coherence, a broadened range of internal policies, more effective delivery of results and policy achievements for citizens, and modern institutions that work in a Union of 27.

The Treaty of Lisbon provides a stronger and more coherent external voice for the European Union by combining the functions of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy with that of Vice-President in the Commission and creating a new External Action Service to support the new “dual role” Representative. It also provides more practical diplomatic and consular assistance for citizens when travelling to third countries.

The Treaty of Lisbon responds to concerns raised by European citizens. For example, the political commitment to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and energy policy is fully reflected in the Treaty. For the first time, the treaties contain a section on energy which assigns to Union policy in this sector the objectives of ensuring the proper functioning of the energy market, in particular energy supply and the promotion of energy efficiency and energy saving, and the development of new and renewable forms of energy.

New possibilities have been created to deal for example with cross border effects of public health, civil protection and to support cross-border activities in sport. The Treaty of Lisbon puts freedom, justice and security at the centre of its priorities. The European Union is now able to deal better with criminal gangs who smuggle people across frontiers, promote and support action in the area of crime prevention and help to tackle terrorism through the freezing of assets. It also confirms the EU commitment to the development of a common immigration policy. The Treaty of Lisbon also contains a “solidarity clause” indicating that the Union and its Member States shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the target of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster.

These innovations give the Union the possibility to better implement its policies aimed at ensuring economic growth and competitiveness, improving employment and social conditions, enhancing personal and collective security, promoting a better environment and better health conditions, developing cohesion and solidarity between Member States as well as scientific and technological progress and, finally, improving its ability to act on the international scene.

The Treaty of Lisbon also sets out a stable institutional system that means decisions can be taken quicker, more transparently, with better democratic control and with a strengthened respect for decisions being taken at the appropriate level. Citizens will have a better idea of who is responsible for what and why the European Union is taking action.

For the first time, one million citizens from different Member States are also able to directly request that the Commission brings forward an initiative of interest to them in an area of EU competence.

A plenary session in the hemicycle of the European Parliament.Do national parliaments have a greater say in European affairs?

Yes. National parliaments are for the first time fully recognised as part of the democratic fabric of the European Union. Special arrangements are made to help national parliaments to become more closely involved in the work of the Union. 

In particular, national parliaments are able to act as “watchdogs” of the principle of subsidiarity. (This principle is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made as to whether action at Community level is justified in the light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level). They have the power to have a say at a very early stage, before a proposal is considered in detail by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Two people using a telephone made of tin cans and string.Are citizens able to present initiatives to the Union’s institutions?

Yes. The Treaty of Lisbon introduces the European Citizens’ Initiative. The new participatory democracy provision indicates that one million citizens coming from a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaty of Lisbon. The details of this procedure will be set out in legislation.

Young women shouting through megaphones.Does the Treaty of Lisbon make the decision-making process more democratic?

Yes. The Treaty of Lisbon increases the number of policy areas where the directly elected European Parliament has to approve EU legislation together with the Council comprised of national Ministers (the “co-decision” procedure).

The Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the democratic control of the European Union with a stronger role for both the European Parliament and national parliaments.

It establishes a clearer distribution of powers between the Union and the Member States, which will make it easier for the citizens to understand “who does what”.

Round table meeting with flags of the EU and the EU countries displayed in the centre.Can you explain the new voting system in the Council of Ministers?

The standard system of voting in the Council of Ministers will be “Qualified majority voting” (QMV). It will be based on the principle of the double majority. Decisions in the Council of Ministers will need the support of 55% of Member States (currently 15 out of 27 EU countries) representing a minimum of 65% of the EU's population. To make it impossible for a very small number of the most populous Member States to prevent a decision from being adopted, a blocking minority must comprise at least four Member States; otherwise, the qualified majority will be deemed to have been reached even if the population criterion is not met.

The European Council agreed that the new system will take effect in 2014. In the first three years, until 2017, a Member State may request that an act be adopted in accordance with the qualified majority as defined in the current Treaty of Nice.

Voting board.Are more decisions taken by qualified majority voting?

Yes. The Treaty of Lisbon extends qualified majority voting to new policy areas. It is very much in the European Union's interest to adopt a more streamlined approach to decision-making, including on issues such as fighting climate change, energy security and emergency humanitarian aid to hot-spots around the globe. Some of the other changes address issues like citizens' initiatives, diplomatic and consulate protection, and procedural matters. Unanimity is retained in areas including tax, foreign policy, defence and social security.

Puzzle showing the EU symbol.What are the main institutional changes introduced by the Treaty?

Differently from the existing Treaties, the Treaty of Lisbon offers the opportunity to keep one Commissioner from each Member State in the Commission.

The European Parliament has no more than 751 members. The delegate numbers for each country have been fixed to a maximum of 96 and a minimum of 6 for each Member State.

A new permanent post, the President of the European Council, is created. He or she is appointed by the European Council for a two and a half year period. This provides greater continuity and stability to the work of the European Council.

It creates a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. He or she also holds the post of Vice-President of the Commission, and chairs the External Relations Council. This strengthens coherence in external action and raises the EU’s profile in the world, “putting a face” on the Union.

Candle with EU symbol in the background.How does the Charter of Fundamental Rights improve the rights of European citizens?

The Treaty of Lisbon makes a cross-reference to the Charter as a real catalogue of rights that the EU believes all citizens of the Union should enjoy vis-à-vis the Union's institutions and the Union's law binding guarantees. The six chapters of the Charter cover the following aspects: individual rights related to dignity; freedoms, equality, solidarity, rights linked to citizenship status and justice. These rights are drawn essentially from other international instruments, like the European Convention on Human Rights, giving them legal embodiment in the Union.

The institutions of the Union must respect the rights written into the Charter. The same obligations are incumbent upon the Member States when they implement the Union’s legislation. The Court of Justice will ensure that the Charter is applied correctly. The incorporation of the Charter does not alter the Union’s powers, but offers strengthened rights and greater freedom for citizens.

Symbolic temperature control button on a miniature globe.Does the Treaty of Lisbon preserve what the EU has achieved for the environment? What about climate change?

Yes, entirely. The Treaty of Lisbon states that one of the Union’s objectives is to work for the sustainable development of Europe based, in particular, on a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. Although the idea of sustainable development was included in the existing treaties, the Treaty of Lisbon reinforces and better defines this objective. Sustainable development is also affirmed as one of the fundamental objectives of the Union in its relations with the wider world.

The environment is one of the spheres of competence shared between the Union and the Member States. When the Union intervenes in this area, it must contribute to the pursuit of clear objectives: preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment; protecting human health; promoting prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources; promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems.

Climate change is among the biggest environmental, social and economic challenges currently facing mankind. With the Treaty of Lisbon, combating climate change on an international level becomes a specific objective of EU environmental policy. The Treaty of Lisbon adds the support of international action for fighting climate change to the list of objectives defining environmental policy at EU level. In so doing, the Treaty clearly recognises that the EU has a leading role to play on the world stage in this area.

Taking fingerprints.What improvements have been made in the area of justice and home affairs?

In the area of justice, freedom and security, the Treaty of Lisbon facilitates action at the European level through the use in almost all circumstances of the "Community method", i.e. qualified majority decision-making based on proposals from the Commission, involving also an enhanced role for the European Parliament, increased democratic control from national parliaments, and a scrutiny role for the Court of Justice. Special arrangements have been extended for Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The world – shot of a stylised map of Europe.Is Europe’s voice in the world stronger with the Treaty of Lisbon?

Yes, this should be one of its major achievements. The Treaty of Lisbon sets out common principles and objectives for the Union’s external action: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity.

Most of the external relations provisions of the existing treaties are regrouped in a single Title of the Treaty of Lisbon. This improves their readability and promotes the coherence of the Union’s action.

The current functions of the High Representative for common foreign and security policy (CFSP) have been combined with those of a Vice-President of the Commission, creating a new institutional player with “two hats” (The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission). This strengthens coherence in external action and raises the EU’s profile in the world, “putting a face” on the Union and making it possible to promote progressively the “common European interest”.

The High Representative/Vice-President is assisted by a joint service, the European External Action Service (EEAS) that is composed of officials from the Council, the Commission and the diplomatic services of the Member States.

The Treaty of Lisbon also introduces a specific legal base for humanitarian aid. This provision puts the emphasis on the application of the principles of international law and on impartiality, neutrality and non-discrimination. It also envisages the creation of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps.

Child holding a globe.Does the Treaty mean anything for Africa or countries needing development or humanitarian aid?

The Treaty of Lisbon introduces for the first time a specific legal basis for humanitarian aid. This provision stresses the specificity of the policy and the application of the principles of international humanitarian law, in particular impartiality and non-discrimination.

The Treaty of Lisbon clearly states that the reduction and the eradication of poverty is the primary objective of the Union’s development cooperation policy. This goal must be respected when the Union implements policies likely to affect developing countries. This implies also that development policy is a policy in its own right, and not an accessory of common foreign and security policy.

In case of urgent financial aid, the Council will act by qualified majority upon a proposal from the Commission. This should mean quicker financial aid in the future.

The Treaty of Lisbon classifies development cooperation and humanitarian aid as “shared parallel competences”: this means that the Union conducts an autonomous policy, which neither prevents the Member States from exercising their competences nor makes the Union’s policy merely “complementary” to those of the Member States.

EU flag along with flags of European countries.Does the Treaty weaken Member States' ability to have an independent foreign policy?

No. The European Union is asked to act when a coherent voice is needed on the international stage. A range of foreign policy issues are best addressed by the Member States of the European Union acting together.

The post of High Representative does not create new powers but streamlines EU external action, avoiding duplication and confusion. He or she acts in foreign policy matters on the basis of decisions taken unanimously by the EU 27. He or she complements and does not replace the foreign policy or diplomatic efforts of Member States.

EU troops in action.Does the Treaty create a European army?

No. Military capabilities remain in national hands. The Treaty foresees that Member States can make available civilian and military resources to the Union for the implementation of its Common Security and Defence operations. However, any Member State has the right to oppose such operations and all contributions to them will be always on a voluntary basis.

A group of Member States who are willing and have the necessary capability will be able to undertake disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and peace-keeping tasks. No Member State can be forced to participate in such operations.

Group of workers.Does the Treaty of Lisbon weaken the social achievements of the EU?

Not at all. The Treaty of Lisbon allows the EU to maintain and develop further the social achievements in full respect of national prerogatives.

A highly competitive social market economy, full employment and social progress are included amongst the Union’s objectives. The coordination of Member States’ economic policies and employment policies is within the sphere of competence of the Union, which allows for the possible coordination of Member States’ social policies.

The Treaty of Lisbon contains a “social clause” whereby the social issues (promotion of a high level of employment, adequate social protection, fight against social exclusion, etc) must be taken into account when defining and implementing all policies.

Fundamental rights are also recognised in the Treaty of Lisbon through the incorporation of a legally binding reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It contains a section on solidarity, which lists a number of rights and principles directly relevant to the social field, such as the right to information and consultation within undertakings, the right to negotiate collective agreements and to take collective action, the right of access to free placement services and protection against unjustified dismissals, and the right to have access to social security and social assistance, etc.

Mail boxes from different EU countries.Does the Treaty of Lisbon put public services at risk?

No. The Treaty of Lisbon recognises public services as an indispensable instrument of social and regional cohesion. It includes a special protocol setting out key principles for action to promote effective services of general interest, which will offer the right basis for EU action in the future.

The Charter indicates that the Union recognises and respects the right of access to services of general economic interest as provided for in national laws and practices, in order to promote the social and territorial cohesion of the Union.

The Treaty of Lisbon refers to services of general economic interest as services to which “all in the Union attribute value” as well as their role in promoting its social and territorial cohesion. 

As a consequence of the important value assigned to them, the Treaty of Lisbon asks the Union and its Member States to ensure that such services operate on the basis of principles and conditions, in particular economic and financial conditions, which enable them to fulfil their missions.

Boxes containing flags of EU and EU Member States.Does the Treaty of Lisbon increase the number of decisions taken in “Brussels”?

No. The Treaty creates a basis for a more decentralized and transparent approach to implementing EU policies to help ensure that decisions are taken as close as possible to the citizen. It brings the local and regional dimension into the EU legal framework and states that the Union must respect the national identities of Member States, inherent in their fundamental structures, including regional and local self-government. The Treaty just streamlines the distribution of powers between the Union and the Member States by saying who does what. There are now fewer grey areas to cause confusion and uncertainty in the future.

Woman drawing the map of Europe.Does the Treaty of Lisbon create a European "Super-State"?

No. The Treaty of Lisbon is an international treaty agreed and ratified by sovereign Member States that agree to share some of their sovereignty in supranational cooperation. The Treaty of Lisbon acknowledges that the Union reflects the will of the Member States and their citizens, and that its powers stem from these States.

The Treaty does not alter the basic nature of the EU, but it introduces some major institutional innovations, which makes the Union stronger and more effective. This is not to the detriment of the Member States; on the contrary, the EU complements Member States' action when they cannot meet their goals on their own.

Child reading a large book.Why is the Treaty of Lisbon not easier to read?

Changes to the EU's Treaties have always come about through amendments to previous Treaties: this was true of the Single European Act, as well as the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. The Treaty of Lisbon uses the same technique. The Union's two main Treaties will be renamed the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The two Treaties will have the same rank.

A consolidated text of the two core Treaties, integrating the modifications which the Treaty of Lisbon lists in its articles, is also available.

Young woman blowing the EU symbol like a feather.How and when did the Treaty of Lisbon enter into force?

The Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009. To come into force, the Treaty of Lisbon had to be ratified by all twenty-seven Member States. It was up to each individual Member State to decide according to its own constitutional rules if this ratification would be done through a referendum or through a parliamentary vote.

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