What is the Lisbon Treaty?

The Lisbon Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Lisbon, updated regulations for the European Union, establishing a more centralized leadership and foreign policy, a proper process for countries that wish to leave the Union, and a streamlined process for enacting new policies. The treaty was signed on December 13, 2007, in Lisbon, Portugal, and amends the two previous treaties that established the foundation for the European Union.

Before the Lisbon Treaty

The Lisbon Treaty was signed by the 27 member states of the European Union and officially took effect in December of 2009, two years after it was signed. It amends two existing treaties, the Treaty of Rome and the Maastricht Treaty.

  • Treaty of Rome: Signed in 1957, this treaty introduced the European Economic Community (EEC), reduced customs regulations between member countries, and facilitated a single market for goods and the set of policies for transporting them. Also known as the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
  • Maastricht Treaty: Signed in 1992, this treaty established the three pillars of the European Union and paved the way for the euro, the common currency. Also known as the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

While these previous treaties set ground rules and tenets of the European Union, the Lisbon Treaty went further to establish new Union-wide roles and official legal procedures.

What the Lisbon Treaty Changed

The Lisbon Treaty was built on existing treaties but adopted new rules to enhance cohesion and streamline action within the European Union. Important articles of the Lisbon Treaty include:

  • Article 18: Established protocol for electing a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Elected in or out of office by a majority vote, this Representative oversees the Union's foreign and security affairs.
  • Article 21: Detailed global diplomatic policy for the European Union, based on the principles of universal human rights, democracy and development. The Union pledged to forge alliances with those countries that support these beliefs and reach out to third-world nations to help them develop.
  • Article 50: Established procedures for a member country to leave the European Union.

The Lisbon Treaty also replaced the previously rejected Constitutional Treaty, which attempted to establish a Union constitution. Member countries couldn't agree on the voting procedures established in the constitution, since some countries, such as Spain and Poland, would lose voting power. The Lisbon Treaty resolved this issue by proposing weighted votes and extending the reach of qualified majority voting.

Opinions of the Lisbon Treaty

Those who support the Lisbon Treaty argue that it enhances accountability by providing a better system of checks and balances and that it gives more power to the European Parliament, which holds major influence in the Union's legislative branch.

Many critics of the Lisbon Treaty argue that it pulls influence toward the center, forming an unequal distribution of power that ignores the needs of smaller countries.