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The following article was punlished in the Bejing Review on 17 December 2009:

A Final Delivery
Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will make for more simple and easier communication between European governments

by Stanley Crossick

After years of debate, disagreements and false starts, the European Union (EU) gave birth to the Lisbon Treaty, at long last, on December 1. First conceived on December 15, 2001 under the Laeken Declaration, it was followed by the European Convention between February 2002 and July 2003, an Intergovernmental Conference from October 2003 to June 2004 and the signing of the European Constitution in April 2004. Its subsequent rejection by French and Dutch referendums in May and June 2005 further set back the legislation. In the end, the treaty was signed on December 13, 2007 after a second Intergovernmental Conference between July and October 2007.

Main changes
Not surprisingly, the past problems in achieving a proper consensus have been as every bit as complex as the very nature of the treaty itself.

But they will be very beneficial. Take the main changes. These will include enhanced EU efficiency and effectiveness and increased powers of the European Parliament, while making the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding.

Of course, there are other vital components, too: the treaty, for instance, will facilitate the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, while establishing the right of 1 million citizens to ask the European Commission to take a special initiative.

Further, the treaty sets out a delineation of EU competencies. Thus, the EU’s three core categories will be exclusive, shared and complementary. The main examples of exclusive competence will include a customs union, competition rules necessary for the single market and a common commercial policy.

The EU will also share with member states competence in such areas as internal markets; social policies; economic, social and territorial cohesion; agriculture and fisheries; environment; consumer policy; transport; energy; freedom, security and justice; and public health.

According to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU will support, supplement or coordinate—but will not legislate—areas such as industry, culture, tourism and education.

This treaty recognizes the regional and local dimensions of the principle of subsidiary, and gives member states the right to secede from the EU.

Beyond that, it substantially extends the co-decision procedure—one that requires legislative approval by both the Council of Ministers and the member states.

But the Lisbon Treaty goes one step further: It also gives the European Parliament equal rights with the Council of Ministers to approve the EU budget.

This ensures that the European Parliament has full parity with the Council of Ministers on approving the entire annual budget—obviously a very important increase in power.

In addition, the treaty makes qualified majority voting the general rule. Qualified majority voting will now be defined as a double majority of 55 percent of the member states representing 65 percent of the population. A minimum of four member states is now required for a blocking minority, according to the treaty.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, 40 significant items have now been moved from unanimity in the Council of Ministers to qualified majority voting including the whole of justice and home affairs. Only the most sensitive policy areas will remain subject to unanimity—i.e. tax, social security, citizens’ rights, languages, seats of the institutions and the main lines of common foreign, security and defense policies. But the new system will not come into force until 2014.

Enhanced cooperation will also be made easier. The Lisbon Treaty permits nine or more member states to introduce, among themselves, a core group to apply for qualified majority voting in a policy area still requiring unanimity among the 27 member states.

In addition, a structured cooperation in defense is established. This means militarily capable and politically willing member states may progress to permanent cooperation in defense.

A solidarity clause, meanwhile, has now been introduced in the context of armed aggression. Under the treaty that is, the European Council—or the council of European heads of state and government—is now officially an EU institution under the supervision of the European Court.

Another critical dimension of the treaty is the fact that the European Council now has a permanent president. Appointed for rotating terms of two and a half years (renewable once), the president will prepare, chair and drive forward the work of the European Council. This involves coordination, helping to reach consensus and reporting to the European Parliament.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the post of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy (FP chief) will be substantially strengthened.

In other words, the FP chief will conduct the EU’s common foreign and security policy, while ensuring the consistency of the EU’s external actions. He or she will preside over the Foreign Affairs Council, be the vice president of the European Commission, and take part in the work of the European Council. This individual may submit—alongside the European Commission—joint proposals to the Council of Ministers, and can propose creating startup funds for military or civilian crisis management missions, while ensuring coordination of crisis management missions using EU and national resources.

The FP chief will also represent the EU in matters of common foreign and security policy, conduct political dialogues with third parties on the EU’s behalf, and, additionally, be able to express the EU’s position in international organizations and at international conferences.

This person will work with the assistance of a European External Action Service, to be made up of officials from the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, and staff seconded from the national diplomatic services of the member states. The European Commission’s 135 or so delegations around the world are also to be transformed into EU delegations representing all EU institutions.

Under this aegis, the FP chief will also chair the Foreign Ministers’ Council. Sectoral councils, meanwhile, are to be chaired by ministers from teams of three member states for 18 months.

Members of the European Parliament will elect the president of the European Commission. The European Council proposes a candidate by qualified majority voting “taking into account the European election results.”

The European Parliament will also approve the European Commission, including the FP chief. At the same time, the size of the European Commission will be reduced in 2014 to two thirds the number of member states—unless the European Council unanimously agrees otherwise.

The jurisdiction of the European Court is also going to be expanded to include all EU activities, with the exception of common foreign and security policy.

Reflecting these principles, the Lisbon treaty will also leave the EU as a single legal entity.

The areas of freedom, security and justice—longtime bywords among EU member states—will no longer be intergovernmental.

Under the new treaty, policies in the area of freedom, security and justice—including the Schengen Agreement—shall cease to be intergovernmental and become subject to a “community method.”

EU national parliaments shall now also scrutinize draft laws. If one third of members object on the grounds of a subsidiary, the European Commission must reconsider the draft altogether. If this objection continues, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament decide.

Beyond these laws, the EU will continue to take into account in its policies the social dimension of the single market, sustainable development and combating discrimination.

Last but not the least, Lisbon means that the primacy of EU law over national law will be conclusively confirmed.

A more efficient Europe
The Lisbon Treaty will herald a more democratic and transparent Europe, a more efficient Europe, a Europe of rights and values, freedom, solidarity and security, and a Europe as a more powerful actor on the global stage. It includes clearer rules on enhanced cooperation and financial provisions.

Overall, the treaty solidifies three principles of democratic governance in Europe: democratic equality—that European institutions must give equal attention to all citizens; representative democracy—a greater role for the European Parliament and greater involvement for national parliaments and participatory democracy—new forms of interaction between citizens and the European institutions.

Lisbon also boosts the EU’s capacity to act by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of its institutions and decision-making procedures. Thus, the EU should be able to cope better with the major challenges it faces. These include, most notably, climate change, energy security, immigration, international terrorism and crime.

Europe’s previous inability to adopt the Lisbon Treaty received negative reactions in China—and its coming into force signals the end of the EU’s long period of internal uncertainty. Hopefully, it will change the widespread perceptions among the world community that the EU is merely a trading bloc.

A more efficient EU also means a more effective actor. Rather, no threat to China will be involved. The Lisbon Treaty’s entry into force ends a period of stagnation for the EU and will most likely introduce new era dynamism and confidence. It remains to be seen, however, whether the new team will live up to EU hopes.
The EU and the European Commission, for instance, already possess the necessary powers in international trade and there is no pending remedial change under the new treaty.

The European Parliament’s increased powers can be also troublesome for China, as, overall, it has not had a fully harmonious relationship with Beijing.

Contrary to initial reactions in China, however, the FP chief is more important to China than the European Council president. The new diplomatic service could strengthen the EU’s voice and influence internationally.
Still, no early manifestations of the external changes are expected. Indeed, it will take time for the three key figures—President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and FP Chief Catherine Ashton—to establish an effective and harmonious working relationship.

Baroness Ashton, for one, will be wholly preoccupied with establishing and organizing the very important external service. But hopefully, a single EU voice will emerge in time, and China will find it easier to deal with the EU—in particular by needing to work less with member states.

Whether or not the EU becomes a balancing factor to the United States, though, remains to be seen.

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