On 1 December 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon came into force. This Treaty, adopted at the end of 2007, amends the pre-existing European Treaties. The Treaty Establishing the European Community, in its amended version, is now renamed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”). Although the Lisbon Treaty, unlike its failed predecessor, does not come in the form of a constitutional document, it nonetheless brings a number of important changes which will affect the functioning of the European Union and the life of its residents.
The Lisbon Treaty has merged the European Community (“EC”) and the European Union (“EU”) into one entity – the European Union, which has also gained legal personality.
One of the important consequences of merging the EU and the EC is the abolition of the so-called ‘pillar structure’ of the EU. This broadens the areas where the decisions are made by qualified majority, rendering EU action more efficient, especially in such areas as external trade or police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
The Lisbon Treaty has also created two new posts, the permanent President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy (see overleaf).
The President of the European Council is responsible for the work schedule and chairmanship of the European Council, as well as external representation of the European Union on issues concerning common foreign and security policy. The creation of the position of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, often referred to as the “EU foreign minister”, is intended to reinforce the EU’s position on the global stage by ensuring a more unified and coherent representation of the EU in international relationships.
The competence of the Court of Justice of the European Union1 will expand into the areas of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters2, where to date its jurisdiction has been limited. National courts will be able to make preliminary references to the Court of Justice and the Commission will be entitled to launch infringement procedures in these fields.
Another important change concerning the European judiciary is that any individual or legal person can bring a case before the Court against a regulatory act which is of direct concern to him. The additional requirement of individual concern, which had proved very difficult to demonstrate in practice, has been dropped for Regulations. This should result in easier access to the European Courts for individuals and business entities.
The increase in the powers of the EU institutions does not mean that the authorities of the Member States lose their importance. On the contrary, national parliaments receive a greater say in EU decision-making. For the first time they will be directly consulted as part of the legislative process and will be able to challenge the Commission’s proposals at an early stage based on the subsidiarity principle.
Furthermore, the legislative procedure whereby, following a Commission proposal, the European Parliament shares decision-making power with the Council, becomes the norm.
The Lisbon Treaty also includes the option of a citizen initiative, allowing more than one million citizens from a significant number of Member States to submit a proposal to the Commission to take action in a field of their concern.
Finally, the rights of individuals and legal persons will receive a greater protection, since the Charter of Fundamental Rights now has the same legal value as the Treaty on the European Union and TFEU. As a result, the Charter is directly applicable in the European Courts in cases brought against the EU institutions or the Member States where they violate human rights when implementing EU law. Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon envisages accession by the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights, which will further enhance the protection of the rights of individuals and companies.