Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty

Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty

On 13 December 2007 the European summit in Lisbon agreed on the Lisbon Treaty to replace the rejected 2004 EU Constitution, which had been embodied in the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe.

Like the rejected Constitution, the new treaty contains 106 new EU competencies. It also includes 68 new areas falling under a qualified majority vote. There were also 68 new areas of qualified majority voting in the rejected 2004 version. There were no changes in legal obligations. Only the presentation was different.

In this ABC we leave it to the readers to judge whether the Lisbon Treaty is a constitution or not. But it is certainly a revised constitution, since the legal content is virtually identical. The Lisbon Treaty gives rise to an EU Constitution of more than 3000 pages compared to the 560 pages in the rejected Constitution.

The reason is that the new treaty spread the legal content from the 560 pages of the original document to the existing 17 treaties, with their  2800 pages of constitutional law. The original constitution simplified the 2800 pages by putting their constitutional content into one single text.

The Lisbon Treaty has been negotiated in a so-called Intergovernmental Conference with ministers and civil servants from every  member state  government, plus three representatives from the European Parliament.

The negotiations were held in secret, not allowing members of the European Parliament or the national parliaments to follow them, or even see the documents when they were negotiated.

The IGC commenced under the Portuguese presidency on 23 July 2007 and had been prepared under the German presidency (January - June 2007). On 23 June 2007 a summit in Brussels agreed on a 273-page negotiations draft mandate which were then implemented as concrete new articles to be inserted into the existing 17 treaties.

The reactivation of the Constitutional process was decided in the Berlin Declaration on 25 March 2007, when the  prime ministers and heads of state celebrated the 50th birthday of the 1957 Rome treaties.

The reactivation of the Constitutional process was decided in the Berlin Declaration on 25 March 2007, when the prime ministers and heads of state celebrated the 50th birthday of the 1957 Rome treaties.

The Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009.


In June 2006 an EU summit had decided to go forward with the proposal for an EU Constitution. The summit had agreed on a ‘two-track approach’ after the first year’s period of reflection on the future of Europe. The period of reflection had been announced at a summit in Brussels in June 2005 after the French and Dutch rejection of the EU Constitution in their referendums of 29 May and 1 June 2005.

On one track, the period of reflection and the ratification process, currently then in progress, would continue. Finland announced that it had launched the debate in the Finnish Parliament and it ratified the Constitution before the end of the Finnish Presidency on 31 December 2006. Finland became the 16th country to ratify the Constitution. The aim was to get 20 countries (4/5 of the total) to ratify, as required by Declaration 30 of the Constitutional Treaty, and then put pressure on the remaining five countries. In January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU.

This meant that 18 out of 27 countries had approved the rejected Constitution. The second track was to seek to implement the provisions of the draft Constitution as concrete proposals on the basis of the Treaty of Nice, which was still in force. In accordance with this track, important proposals from the Constitution were already being made effective. The European Defence Agency, for example, was set up in June 2004.

On 13 March 2006 the Court of Justice made it possible for the EU in future to adopt criminal law provisions by majority decision in the supranational pillar. On 21 March 2006 the Court of Justice made it possible for supranational decisions in the intergovernmental pillar to be taken on judicial policy. The Court has also regularly cited the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which was in order made legally binding in the Lisbon Treaty, Art. 6 TEU.

After the rejection of the EU Constitution, the inter-group SOS Democracy in the European Parliament, the young federalists in the UEF and Democracy International had asked for a new directly-elected convention to be convened  in order to draft proposals which could be put to  referendum on the same day in all the EU  member states. SOS Democracy wanted  voters to say whether they wanted a democratic constitution for a stronger EU or a less far-reaching cooperation agreement between independent national democracies.

The Prime Ministers made a political decision in order to avoid referendums. The Danish Prime Minister was applauded in the European Council when he informed his colleagues that he had been able to avoid a referendum in his country. Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty by referendum on 12 June 2008. A re-run took place on 2 October 2009 based on the so-called Irish guarantees but the Treaty was ratified unchanged.



The main stages in the institutional reform of the European Union 

The history of the European Constitution

The future of the EU Constitution: Escaping the Ratification Maze

See also

EU Constitution, Lisbon Treaty, Irish declaration
Read about the transition of the Constitution into the Lisbon Treaty here.