The Treaty of Lisbon: a second look at the institutional innovations

24 September 2010

Philippe de Schoutheete, EGMONT Institute, said the European Council, “the fundamental motor of EU integration”, now had a legal status, an institutional reality and a semi-permanent President. The European Parliament, “wins power with every Treaty”, while the European Commission’s power has weakened, and with a Union of 27 diverse members, it is no longer capable of identifying “the common European good”.

Each Member State will have a Commissioner, who is seen as a representative of his/her Member State. On paper the ‘Presidency Triangle’ of the Heads of the European Council and the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, seems very dysfunctional, but currently it works.

Piotr Kaczynski, CEPS, described how national parliaments had increased their power: they can officially object to Commission proposals if they breach the subsidiarity principle. However many governments already do this informally, and he doubted that many national parliaments would use this new power.

Turning to the Citizens’ Initiative, he felt this would be used by organised groups, rather than ordinary citizens, thus enhancing ‘advocacy’ democracy, and was concerned that it could be used by right-wing parties to highjack the political agenda, or it could frustrate citizens by the length of time for a successful Initiative to be implemented, (if ever).

Janis Emmanouilidis, Senior Policy Adviser, EPC, said the EU’s external policy was still ‘work in progress’, with Ms Ashton’s role the cornerstone of the new foreign policy. Creating the European External Action Service will be a mammoth task and a policy challenge will be to keep the Parliament at bay.

The first ten years of European Security and Defence Policy had been disappointing, with poor value for money so Europeans will have to increase their investment if the EU wants to remain influential in the field. The EU's defence system is transformed, and Member States can decide how much they will cooperate. It is unclear on what level many will do so, but there will have to a core group of Member States which contributes in most areas.

Xavier Demoulin, European Affairs, Belgian Ministry of foreign Affairs agreed that the Commission has been weakened and saw overlaps between the European Commission, the European Council President and the High Representative.

The European Parliament has flexed its muscles and now has more power of co-decision, and the rotating Presidency’s role is ensure that the Council, the European Council, the Parliament and the Commission work well together.

In foreign policy terms, other countries need to understand the changes in EU foreign policy, and to help this, the EEAS must working by end 2010.

Jonas Condomines, Bureau of European Policy Advisors, European Commission, described the Lisbon Treaty as “a very European Treaty”, “full of risks, check and balances, but without being particularly worrying”, as it set in stone a substantial part of what already existed. He did not accept that the Commission’s power had been reduced, instead the scope of EU activities had increased.

He felt the idea that national parliaments had increased their power over the Commission, and the Citizens’ Initiative were both “fake novelties”, as they institutionalise what already happens in practice.