Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lisbon Treaty Explained

What is the Lisbon Treaty?

The Lisbon Treaty was negotiated by the EU Member States over a six year period. It was signed in Lisbon on 13 December 2007 by the Heads of State or Government of the 27 EU Member States. The Treaty consists of amendments to the two main EU Treaties, the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Irish Government played a leading role in the negotiations during the Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2004.
What are main features of the Lisbon Treaty?

The Lisbon Treaty:

•sets out the Union’s values – including respect for human dignity, freedom,democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights including the rights of minorities;

•defines the EU’s competences more clearly than in previous Treaties and makes it clear that competences not explicitly conferred on the Union remain with the Member States;

•gives legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and recognises the rights,freedoms and principles set out in the Charter;

•will allow the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights;

•allows for a citizens’ initiative under which 1 million citizens from a number of Member States can petition the European Commission on issues falling within the EU’s competence;

•expands the right of individuals to bring proceedings before the European Court of Justice in relation to acts of the Union;

•gives a new role in EU affairs to national parliaments including the Oireachtas.

•increases the powers of the European Parliament, which under Lisbon will have 751 members including 12 from Ireland. Under Lisbon, the European Parliament will legislate jointly on most EU issues with the Council of Ministers, where the Irish Government is represented alongside the governments of the other 26 EU Member States;

•provides for the appointment of a President of the European Council who will hold office for a maximum period of 5 years and will chair four meetings of EU leaders each year;

•allows for more decisions to be taken by the Council of Ministers on a new double majority basis, i.e. by at least 15 EU countries representing at least 65% of the Union’s population;

•makes changes in the conduct of the Union’s external relations including by the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy;

•gives citizens the right to deal with the EU institutions in any EU language including Irish;

•makes a number of changes to the EU Treaties in respect of border checks, asylum and immigration, judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters and police cooperation. Ireland is not bound by measures adopted in these areas, but can opt to be involved on a case-by-case basis;

•gives the European Union some new competences in such areas as energy, humanitarian aid,tourism, sport, administrative cooperation and the participation by young people in the democratic life of Europe. Climate change is also a new political objective,given expression in the Treaty on foot of a proposal by Ireland."

•Under an arrangement known as ‘enhanced cooperation’, the Treaty lays down the procedures for allowing a group of Member States to cooperate more deeply in certain areas of EU policy. This arrangement does not apply in the field of common foreign and security policy.

What has happened since the June 2008 referendum?
On 12 June 2008, the people of Ireland voted not to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by 53.4% to 46.6%. The turnout was 53%.
Since the referendum, the Irish Government has been working intensively to find a way forward that respects the decision of the Irish people as expressed in that referendum, while respecting the desire of other Member States to see the Lisbon Treaty enter into force.
Following the referendum, the Government commissioned in-depth research in order to identify the reasons behind the outcome. The research showed that most people want Ireland to remain fully and actively involved in the EU, with 70% believing that membership is a good thing and only 8% disagreeing. The research also illustrated that the main reason cited for voting No was a lack of information and knowledge (42%). Of those who decided to abstain from voting, 46% did so for this reason.
A number of other issues also emerged from the research as being significant concerns for Irish voters. These included: the composition of the European Commission; taxation; ethical issues, including abortion; security and defence issues, including conscription; and workers’ rights.
The Government also worked to establish an all-party Oireachtas Sub Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union. This Committee’s report offered a realistic assessment of the challenges facing Ireland in the Union. It concluded that Ireland’s best interests are served by remaining at the heart of the European Union. The report recommended that the electorate’s key concerns be addressed and that public understanding of the EU be improved, with the Oireachtas playing a more active role in EU affairs.
Building on the agreement reached at the meeting of European leaders in December 2008, that, when the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, each Member State would retain a right to nominate a member of the European Commission, the European Council agreed in June 2009, to a set of legal guarantees and assurances for Ireland in the areas of key concern to Irish voters last year.
The legal guarantees cover:
• Taxation;
• Security and defence;
• The articles of the Irish Constitution on the protection of the right to life, family and education.
The legal guarantees clarify that:
• nothing in the Lisbon Treaty makes any change of any kind, for any Member State, to the extent or operation of the Union’s competences in relation to taxation;
• the Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality – it confirms that there the Lisbon Treaty does not create a European army, nor does it provide for conscription; and
• nothing in the Lisbon Treaty or the Charter of Fundamental Rights affects in any way the scope and applicability of the provisions of the Irish Constitution relating to the protection of the right to life, family and education.
The European Council also agreed on a Solemn Declaration on workers’ rights which confirms the high importance that the Union attaches to:
• social progress and the protection of workers' rights;
• public services;
• the responsibility of Member States for the delivery of education and health services;
• the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and organising services of general economic interest.
What form will the legal guarantees take?
The Decision of the 27 EU Heads of States or Government agreed at the June European Council on Ireland’s legal guarantees will constitute an international agreement, which will take effect on the date of entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. This will be legally binding under international law and will be registered with the United Nations.
If the Lisbon Treaty is approved by all EU Member States, including by Ireland in a further referendum and subsequently enters into force, the Decision will be annexed to the Treaties at the time of the conclusion of the next accession treaty for a new Member State. Protocols form an integral part of the Treaties to which they are annexed and have the same legal status as the Treaties themselves.

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