December 13, 2007, has become yet another historical marker for the European Union as representatives from the 27 EU member-states gathered in Lisbon, Portugal, to sign the Lisbon treaty (or Reform treaty), a 250-plus-page document intended to streamline EU’s decision making, further unify its member-states and add to its political clout.
Current EU President and Portuguese Prime Minister Josè Sócrates remarked, “This is not a treaty for the past. This is a treaty for the future, a treaty that will make Europe more modern, more efficient and more democratic.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement “a historic success” and “decisive milestone” for Europe, also saying it “lays the groundwork for a new European Union in the 21st century.”
Despite receiving signatures of leaders from each member-state, the treaty has spurred heated criticism from citizens throughout the EU—especially in Britain (which has long been able to opt out of EU decisions). Critics feel the new agreement is merely the failed 2005 constitution renamed and are angered that their leaders would sign such a document without a vote from their citizens. Others believe the treaty forces member-states to relinquish too much power, hindering their ability to govern themselves.
The treaty is, in fact, a less aggressive, stripped-down version of the 2005 European constitution that was shelved after France and the Netherlands rejected it. But because it carries the name treaty rather than constitution, it can be approved without individual national referendums. The document amends the current constitution, rather than replacing it.
The new treaty...
gives more power to the EU president, who can now remain in power for a total of five years, to be elected by leaders of the member states.
creates a rotating six-month presidency for the European Council.
gives the EU “legal personality,” allowing it to sign international treaties as a single governing entity, rather than an international organization.
removes national veto power for over 50 policies.
Included in the treaty is the Charter of Fundamental Rights—a document that lays out many political, civil and social rights for EU citizens. If a citizen feels his or her rights have been violated by a member-state’s government, they may use this charter to take their case before EU courts. Before the treaty, individual nations had the final say.
EU leaders hope the document will be ratified by May 2008, allowing most measures to come into effect by 2009. France, Germany and Poland have vowed to be among the first to ratify the document. However, if just one country does not agree with the document, it will be nullified.
Currently, only Ireland is scheduled to hold a referendum on the issue; polls regarding the treaty have shown that citizens there are largely undecided or indifferent.