Treaty of Lisbon Part 2: Making the EU more democratic

The Treaty of Lisbon makes changes to the structure of the European Union to try and negate the democratic deficit that exists in its structures. The treaty does this in a number of ways.

  • Increased Role for the European Parliament
  • An explicit role for National Parliaments
  • The introduction of citizens’ initiative
  • Transparency in the Council of Ministers
  • Defines EU Competences

Lets look at each of these points in turn.

Increased Role for the European Parliament

Parliament’s powers have been gradually extended with every new treaty. The Treaty of Lisbon is no exception, giving more powers in relation to lawmaking, budget and international agreements.

The ‘co-decision procedure’ (renamed ‘ordinary legislative procedure’) has been extended to several new fields. This puts the Parlaiment on equal footing with the Council of Ministers. These new fields, where previously the parliament had little or no powers, include legal immigration, penal judicial cooperation (Eurojust, crime prevention, alignment of prison standards, offences and penalties), police cooperation (Europol) and some aspects of trade policy and agriculture.

The new treaty confirms the established practice of working with a multiannual financial framework, which Parliament will have to approve in future. It also abolishes the current distinction between ‘compulsory’ expenditure (like direct income support to farmers) and ‘non-compulsory’ expenditure, with the result that Parliament and the Council will determine all expenditure together. This innovation creates a new balance between the two institutions when approving the EU’s budget.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament’s assent will be required for all international agreements in fields governed by the ordinary legislative procedure.

An explicit role for National Parliaments

For the first time National Parliaments are recognised and given a role in the operation of the EU, apart from transcribing EU legislation into national laws. A new clause clearly sets out the rights and duties of the national parliaments within the EU. It deals with their right to information, the way they monitor subsidiarity, mechanisms for evaluating policy in the field of freedom, security and justice, procedures for reforming the treaties, and so on.

The parliaments gain a new power to enforce the principle of subsidiarity within the EU. Subsidiarity means that – except in the areas where it has exclusive powers – the EU acts only where action will be more effective at EU-level than at national level. Any national parliament may flag a proposal for EU action which it believes does not respect this principle. This triggers a two-stage procedure:

  • if one third of national parliaments consider that the proposal is not in line with subsidiarity, the Commission will have to re-examine it and decide whether to maintain, adjust or withdraw it
  • if a majority of national parliaments agrees with the objection but the Commission decides to maintain its proposal anyway, the Commission will have to explain its reasons, and it will be up to the European Parliament and the Council to decide whether or not to continue the legislative procedure.

So this yellow card procedure can highlight where parlaiments believe the EU is over legislating. (we have the dutch to thank for this one. It was one of their “red lines”

The introduction of citizens’ initiative

There are already many ways in which European citizens can find out about and take part in the political process of the EU. The newest of these is the citizens’ initiative, whereby one million citizens, from any number of member countries, will be able to ask the Commission to present a proposal in any of the EU’s areas of responsibility. The practical details of this initiative will be worked out once the Treaty of Lisbon takes effect.

I think will be a mainly only thing. I cannot imagine people posting something to a million people across the EU. It will be something like the the UK Prime Miniter’s E-Petition which is written in opensource code.

Transparency in the Council of Ministers

National parliaments and citizens will now be able to see which decisions have been taken by which national ministers in the Council, since all its deliberations on legislative matters will be made public.

Yes finally! We get to find out what happens behind the closed doors in Brussels apart from all the handshaking which they always show on TV!

Defines EU Competences

The Lisbon Treaty sets out exactly what areas the EU can act in! In the Reform Treaty the policy areas of the EU are classified into one of the following three areas:

  • Exclusive competence: In this area the EU has exclusive competence to make directives. It also has exclusive competence for the conclusion of an international agreement when its conclusion is provided for in a legislative act of the Union.
  • Shared competence: The competence to legislate in this area is shared between the member states and the EU.
  • Supporting competence: Here the EU is allowed to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States.

They are set out below.

Exclusive competence

  • customs union
  • the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market
  • monetary policy for the Member States whose currency is the euro
  • the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy
  • common commercial policy

Shared competence

  • internal market
  • social policy, for the aspects defined in this Treaty
  • economic, social and territorial cohesion
  • agriculture and fisheries, excluding the conservation of marine biological resources
  • environment
  • consumer protection
  • transport
  • trans-European networks
  • energy
  • area of freedom, security and justice
  • common safety concerns in public health matters, for the aspects defined in this Treaty

Supporting competence

  • protection and improvement of human health
  • industry
  • culture
  • tourism
  • education, youth, sport and vocational training
  • civil protection
  • administrative cooperation

Wow, long lists I know.

If you want to read the full text of the treaty, a hard copy will cost you €42 from the EU Bookshop. Alternatively you can download the PDF (English or Irish). The HTML version is availibe on EUR-LEX (English)

Author: Stephen

Cork born and bred, proud European and Irishman. Involved in many organisations and politics. Also writes for and UCC Express.

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