Lisbon Treaty comes into legal force across EU


EU LEADERS have predicted that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty will bring the bloc into a period of stability after years of discord over the reform project.

As the treaty took legal effect yesterday, former Belgian premier Herman van Rompuy became the first permanent president of the European Council and former EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton took office as EU foreign policy chief. Designed to make the EU more efficient following its expansion in 2004 and more democratic, the treaty has been in gestation for eight years. It largely replaced a draft EU constitution rejected in 2005 by voters in France and the Netherlands.

While boosting the powers of the European Parliament and providing greater oversight to national parliaments, the Lisbon Treaty reduces the number of legislative areas in which national governments can exercise a veto. It also gives legal force to the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Rejected by Irish voters in a referendum last year, the treaty received overwhelming support in a second referendum in October after the Government received guarantees on taxation, military neutrality and ethical issues. The Czech Republic became the last of the 27 EU members to ratify the treaty last month, clearing the way for it to enter into force.

Although the treaty’s enactment was welcomed yesterday by each of the main political groupings in the parliament, there was little fuss in Brussels.

However, the moment was marked last night by fireworks, music and speeches in Lisbon, where EU leaders signed the treaty in 2007, at a ceremony hosted by Portuguese premier José Sócrates. Ahead of that event, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said the reforms were designed to put citizens at the centre of the European project. “I’m delighted that we now have the right institutions to act and a period of stability, so that we can focus all our energy on delivering what matters to our citizens,” Mr Barroso said.

His remarks were echoed by Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who said in his capacity as holder of the rotating presidency that the Lisbon reforms would equip the bloc for new challenges. “A new era of European co-operation begins today,” Mr Reinfeldt said. “With the Treaty of Lisbon, EU citizens get a union that can meet the demands of the 27 member states for transparency, democracy and efficiency; a union that can better meet the challenges of globalisation.”

Mr van Rompuy went to Copenhagen on Monday for a meeting with Danish prime minister Lars Løkke. Before travelling to Lisbon last evening, he met in Ljubljana with Slovenian prime minister Borut Pahor and in Milan with the Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.

He travels to Helsinki today to meet Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen and onward to Riga to meet Latvian leader Valdis Dombgrovskis.

Ms Ashton, meanwhile, will today discuss her work with MEPs in a public session of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Anti-treaty campaigner Patricia McKenna, a former Green MEP, said the Government and the “political establishment” should reduce the size of the Oireachtas in line with the reduction of legislative powers from national parliaments. “This may be a historic day for the Brussels elite, but with the Lisbon Treaty voted on by a mere 1.8 million of the 500 million citizens across Europe, it is a sad day for democracy . . .”

Oireachtas now over-resourced, say protesters

CAMPAIGNERS FOR a No vote in the Lisbon referendum handed in mock P45 forms yesterday to the leaders of political parties at Leinster House.

In a protest to mark the coming into effect of the treaty, the People’s Movement said the Dáil and Seanad should be reduced “in line with the reduction of legislative powers from national parliaments which have now moved to Brussels”.

Former MEP for Dublin Patricia McKenna said: “Over 78 per cent of our laws come from Brussels. Surely with so much decision-making power now residing in Brussels, it is unnecessary to burden the taxpayer with the current over-resourced Houses of the Oireachtas.”

Meanwhile, Labour Party spokesman on Europe, Joe Costello TD, said in a statement: “There is a palpable sense of relief that the Lisbon Treaty is at last fully in place.” He added: “The Charter of Fundamental Rights enables the EU to develop as a rights-based union of 27 member states, which can create a unique social market economy prioritising the creation of a sustainable economy, the elimination of unemployment and poverty, and the provision of world leadership on tackling climate change.”

The Lisbon Treaty “gives us a far greater role in influencing EU policy and laws”, Mr Costello added. DEAGLÁN DE BRÉADÚN