(BRUSSELS) – The European Union’s wide-ranging Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force Tuesday, is aimed at updating and revitalising the bloc’s institutions and replacing its failed constitution.
Here are some of the main aspects of the treaty:
The first EU president, former Belgian premier Herman Van Rompuy, takes his place at the helm, taking up many of the functions traditionally carried out by a rotating presidency switching from one member state to the next.
The 27 EU heads of state and government chose the president for a two and a half year term renewable once.
He will prepare and chair summits and represent the EU on the world stage without, it is hoped, treading on the toes of the new “High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”.
This foreign policy post, handed to British peer Catherine Ashton, combines the roles of the previous EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (Javier Solana) and the Commissioner for External Relations (Benita Ferrero-Waldner).
The commission — the EU’s unelected executive arm — will from 2014 cut the number of policy commissioners in order to increase efficiency.
New rights for EU citizens:
The treaty makes binding the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, though Britain and Poland have obtained opt-outs, and the Czechs have been promised a similar exemption.
A million European citizens will be able to “invite” the European Commission to submit a legislative proposal in a given area.
The treaty introduces new objectives such as a common energy policy and strategy on fighting global warming.
On trade policy, fair competition becomes a requirement to assure the proper functioning of the internal market.
On security matters, a “solidarity” clause is introduced in the case of terrorist attacks. A member state which falls victim to an attack or other disaster will receive assistance from other member states, if requested.
The treaty increases the number of policy areas where the European parliament has to approve EU legislation, along with the member states, particularly in the areas of justice, security and immigration.
National parliaments will be given a voice in EU lawmaking for the first time. Each will receive proposals for new EU legislation directly to judge whether a proposal impinges on its competencies.
The treaty also introduces a new voting system. Under the new “double majority” qualified voting system, a minimum of 55 percent of member states (currently 15 of 27 countries) representing at least 65 percent of the EU’s population must vote in favour of new legislation for it to be passed.
A treaty not a constitution:
An attempt to give the European Union its first constitution, which would have replaced the EU’s key treaties — the 1957 Treaty of Rome and the treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1996) and Nice (2000) — was foiled in 2005 when Dutch and French voters rejected the idea in national referendums.
The new “Reform Treaty” will complement and amend its predecessors, not replace them.
The treaty introduces the possibility for a country to leave the European Union under conditions to be negotiated with its partners.