A look at the Lisbon Treaty compiled from Jamie Smyth's Lisbon Explained series


Amends existing treaty establishing the European Community and re names it Treaty on Functioning of European Union

Amends Treaty on European Union (TEU) first enacted at Maastricht

Gives legal standing to Charter of Fundamental Rights The EU institutions and decision-making


The EU's executive arm, the commission, alone has the right to propose legislation for ministers to vote on, administers the programmes and the budget of the union, and represents the members in international negotiations

Currently each member-state appoints one member and will continue to do so until 2014. In performing his/her functions a commissioner promises to represent and act in the interests of the whole Union not of his/her member state. With a membership now of 27, the commision is seen as unwieldy.

From 2014 each member-state will only be allowed to nominate a commissioner for two out three terms (for 10 years out of 15).

Large and small states will lose their turn to their one commissioner on an equal basis. In every commission at least one of the large states like Germany or the UK will not be represented

A High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy will sit on both commission and council of ministers to ensure greater coherence and continuity in the Union's external policies.


The European Parliament, directly elected every five years, has increasingly shared with the council the right to approve legislation ("co-decision"). It has an important supervisory role over the commission and has powers over the EU's budget.

MEPs acquire new co-decision powers in over 30 areas of policy (in the areas in which ministers relinquish their veto). These new policy areas include extra powers in agriculture, asylum, immigration, judicial co-operation and measures relating to the internal market.

MEPs also granted equal say with Council over the EU budget.

In reducing the size of parliament from 785 to 751, Lisbon reduces Ireland's seats from 13 to 12. But representation remains heavily skewed towards the smaller states with Ireland having one seat for every 385,000 citizens and Germany, one per 854,000.

The president of the commission will be elected by the European Parliament, but on the basis of a single nomination from heads of government. If the name proposed is rejected the heads of government are forced to come up with another for MEPs to consider.


Ministers represent member-states at the council of ministers, which shares with MEPs the right to legislate for the EU.

The supreme body of the Union is the European Council, or summit of heads of government.

Voting in these bodies is currently either by consensus (unanimity) or on many issues under a system known as qualified majority voting (QMV) - under QMV each member state is allocated a number of votes that reflects its size (currently Ireland - 7, UK - 29). To be enacted, a measure must be passed by almost three quarters of the votes.

Under Lisbon when passing legislation the council will conduct its business in public.

While the six-month presidency of the EU will continue to pass from member-state to member-state, a new president of the European Council will be elected for terms of two and a half years. His/her function will be to chair meetings, co-ordinate work, and represent the EU internationally.

In 2014 the QMV system will be overhauled. To be approved legislation will have to achieve a "double majority" - 55 per cent of member-states must back it (with 27 member-states, a majority will require the support of 15), and they must represent 65 per cent of the EU's population.

Some 60 areas of policy will be moved from unanimity to majority (QMV) voting to ease decision-making. These include energy, asylum, immigration , judicial co-operation and sport.

The council will share with the commission the job of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, to provide greater coherence and continuity in the Union's external actions.

The European Council is given the right, acting unanimously, to amend aspects of the treaties that deal with the internal policies of the EU. Such changes may not increase the areas in which the Union may operate, and any national constitutional requirements will continue to have to be observed (Ireland's constitutional provision for referendums will not be affected).

Member-states, Ireland included, will retain their vetoes on foreign, security and defence policy issues, on direct taxation (corporate tax), and on the current World Trade Organisation talks round.


If, having failed to win backing from a majority of member-states , a group of member-states wish to collaborate on a project, they may be allowed to do so by a qualified majority (unanimity in the case of a foreign or security policy project). The project must be compatible with the objectives of the Union, and any member must be allowed to join the group subsequently. Under Lisbon a minimum of 9 states must be involved.


The European Court of Justice interprets and rules on the application of EU law. Lisbon treaty speeds up the procedure for fining errant member states and extends the court's remit to areas of freedom, security and justice.

Separately, provision is made for the creation of a European Public Prosecutor to investigate crimes against the EU's financial interests (Ireland has a right to opt-out ).


Lisbon gives legal effect given to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which enumerates the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens and all EU residents.

The EU gets for the first time a right to propose legislation in the areas of intellectual property rights, space policy, energy, tourism, sport, civil protection, and administrative co-operation.

Climate change and energy security are both prioritised.

The Union gets a "single legal personality", clarifying its ability to sign international treaties.

The EU leaders could not agree to include a reference to God in the treaty but there is a reference to "Europe's cultural, religious and humanist inheritance".

Lisbon does not undermine the Irish 1992 Maastricht Treaty protocol confirming that nothing in the treaties shall affect the application in Ireland of the Constitution's anti-abortion provisions.

Mechanism introduced to enable EU states to withdraw from Union.

Legal base for humanitarian aid and volunteer humanitarian aid corps created.

The EU "will move" towards a common defence policy, although only based on a unanimous decision and in conformity with states' constitutional requirements.The 26th amendment to Irish Constitution, approved during Nice II, prohibits Ireland from joining common defence arrangements and it remains unaffected.

Groups of states are permitted to move ahead on their own in integrating defence structures using a procedure called "structured cooperation". Ireland can opt in or out. States encouraged to "undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities".

In case of state aggression, terrorist attack or disaster, EU states committed to act in a spirit of solidarity. Ireland can still decline a request for military assistance if this would breach its constitutional safeguards.

Lisbon boosts EU influence in the area of services of general economic interest such as electricity and telecoms by providing a legal base to introduce framework legislation. Protocol on services of general interest aims to clarify that national, regional and local authorities have wide discretion to provide, commission and organise public services.

New social clause will require commission to consider the social impact of any new legislative proposals.

Majority voting is to become the norm for ministers on issues relating to legislation on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters; legal migration and integration of third-country nationals, measures dealing with those non-EU nationals subject to visa requirements, and rules on uniform format for visas.

Ireland and UK are given right in a protocol to opt out, or in, of new laws regarding border checks, asylum, immigration and judicial co-operation in civil matters.

Dáil and Seanad

National parliaments are given new powers to scrutinise EU legislation and proposals. Both the Daìl and the Seanad will get to see and consider all commission green and white papers, draft legislation, and the agendas and outcomes of ministerial meetings at the same time as they are sent to council members and MEPs.

If a third of national parliaments feels proposed legislation conflicts with the principle of subsidiarity - that decisions should be taken at the level closest to the citizen - it can be "yellow carded", requiring the commission to reconsider its proposals.

Citizens and the EU

New "citizen initiative" - at the request of a million citizens from a "significant" number of member states the commission can be required to consider bringing forward legislation as long as it is within the EU's sphere of competences. The details of implementation are yet to be worked out.

Lisbon reaffirms the principle that all EU nationals are EU citizens and that "citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it."It includes the right to free movement, to vote in EU and local elections, and to petition the parliament and Ombudsman.