The Importance of the Lisbon Treaty in the Future Governance of Europe, and the Necessity for Further Revision

By Ainsley Gilbert
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
2011, Vol. 2011/2012 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 |

The Lisbon Treaty also created a President for the European Council, whose roles include ensuring ‘the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council’, and facilitating ‘cohesion and consensus in the European Council’.22 As a result of these roles, there is more effective leadership of the European Council, which will make decision-making more efficient both by not having a change of administration every six months and by having the ability to build up a relationship with, and therefore broker deals between, member states. The role does unfortunately bring instability with its introduction in that ‘the differing electoral bases of the presidents of the Council and the Commission seem likely to generate tension’, and this would affect the work of the Council and Commission technocracies. The existing rotating presidency, which the treaty failed to replace, will clash with the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as both their roles include representing the EU externally.23,24,25

The number of areas where Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) is used has been extended further, meaning that the objections of a few states are not able to stop progress on an issue, although consensus is still usually sought. The change in the voting allocation system of QMV to one based on population and proportion of member states is also an improvement, as it allows for expansion of the EU without need for re-allocating votes - which were already outliving their usefulness, being complicated and giving disproportionate power to small states. This guarantees that the Council will, if any kind of consensus is reached, be able to play their part in decision-making.

The budgetary procedure used by the European Union was changed by the Lisbon Treaty, and the procedure is now time limited to force action from both the Council and the European Parliament. The joint Conciliation Committee has only twenty-one days to find a compromise position between that of the Council and that of the Parliament, and this compromise must be approved within fourteen days. This makes the process far more efficient, as does the parliament’s ability to override a rejection of the compromise by the Council, meaning that so long as a compromise favoured by the Parliament is drafted, the budget will be approved.26 It carries a risk of budgets being rejected due to a lack of time for negotiation, but possibly only those which would have failed under previous arrangements.

The changes to the decision-making process allow the union to be more efficient and dynamic, and also put it on a stronger footing for dealing with expansion and change, than prior to the Lisbon Treaty. It remains an extremely complex organisation, with a great number of rules and procedures limiting its powers to act. The Eurozone crisis highlights the EU’s lack of ability to respond through its normal institutions to difficult policy areas, partly owing to the time it would take to respond, and partly due to the lack of ability to take controversial decisions in a system so full of checks and balances. This is a real threat to the EU’s future, and a stronger treaty, or constitution will be needed to give the EU a future which is not as complex and unstable as it remains after Lisbon.

The Lisbon Treaty therefore has had great impact on the functioning of Europe, with the EU becoming more powerful, more democratic and more efficient. However, these changes have not been enough for the EU to become more than what it has been thus far: an organisation too complex, too inefficient and too removed from its citizens to be maintained or act without a constant stream of support from national political elites. The treaty can be seen as a rejection of Europe becoming more, as its creation was a result of the failure of the Constitutional Treaty, which had the ability to transform Europe into something which was stronger. Its changes were seen by European leaders at the European Council in 2007 as providing ‘a stable and lasting framework’, from which they expected ‘no change in the foreseeable future’.27 This cannot be the case as Lisbon does not reform enough to provide a secure future for the EU, on the basis of it alone.


  1. Henceforth known as ‘the treaty’ or ‘Lisbon’, all other treaties will be referred to by name.
  2. European Union Website on the Treaty of Lisbon. Questions and Answers. Why Does Europe Need the Treaty of Lisbon? http://europa. eu/lisbon_treaty/faq/index_en.htm#1 (accessed 08/11/2011)
  3. Hix, Simon What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It? (London, Polity, 2008) p.3
  4. Regulation (EU) No 211/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Official Journal of the European Union 11/03/2011 pp. L 65/1-7 065:0001:0022:EN:PDF (accessed 11/11/2011)
  5. Piris, Jean-Claude, The Lisbon Treaty: A Legal and Political Analysis (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010) p. 134
  6. Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Official Journal of the European Union 30/03/2010 Article 15 p. C 83/54 HTML (accessed 11/11/2011)
  7. Ibid.
  8. Report by the Commission on the application in 2010 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents Brussels, 12.8.2011 COM(2011) 492 final. (accessed 11/11/2011) p.9
  9. Pollack, M. A., ’Theorizing EU Policy-Making’, in Policy-Making in the European Union, edt. Helen Wallace, Mark A. Pollack and Alasdair R. Young (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 15 – 44 (p. 30)
  10. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty p. 129
  11. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty p. 128
  12. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty pp..118-119
  13. Results of the 2009 European Elections, Turnout at the European Elections. elections2009/en/turnout_en.html (accessed 12/11/2011)
  14. Results of the 2009 European Elections, Distribution by Member State. elections2009/en/national_parties_en.html (accessed 12/11/2011); Region and Country Profiles - Population and Migration Tables - October 2011 (Excel Download) Office of National Statistics (UK) html?edition=tcm%3A77-226813 (accessed 12/11/2011)
  15. Hix What’s wrong with the European Union? p.98
  16. Hix What’s wrong with the European Union? p.98
  17. Skach, Cindy ‘We the Peoples – Constitutionalizing the European Union’ in Journal of Common Market Studies, Volume 43, Number 1 (2005) p.153
  18. European Union Website on The Lisbon Treaty http://europa. eu/lisbon_treaty/faq/index_en.htm#1 (see footnote 2).
  19. European Union Website on The Lisbon Treaty http://europa. eu/lisbon_treaty/faq/index_en.htm#1 (see footnote 2).
  20. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty p. 92
  21. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty p. 119
  22. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty pp.207-208
  23. Nugent, Neill and Paterson, William E. Research Agendas in EU Studies: Stalking the Elephant (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) p.81
  24. Fabbrini, Sergio ‘The Institutional Future of the European Union’ Centre for Reasearch and Studies in Sociology, University Institute of Lisbon e-Working Paper No. 109/2011 (2011) p.14
  25. Duke, Simon ‘The Lisbon Treaty and External Relations’ in EIPAScope, 2008 (1) pp.13-18 (accessed 12/11/2011) p.14
  26. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty p. 298
  27. European Council (2007) Presidency Conclusions, December 2007 quoted in Brown, Tony Europe after Lisbon, in Brown, Tony (Ed) Lisbon – What the Reform Treaty Means (Institute of International and European Affairs, Dublin, 2008) p. 245

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