As the debate surrounding European integration
continues to grow, it is as important now than ever to discuss the role of
supranational governance. For the European Union, the task of eradicating the
democratic deficit remains a central goal. However, consistent failure to
achieve this goal has incited further Euroscepticism amongst the citizens of
the European Union. In this essay, I explore the key impacts of the Treaty of
Lisbon on EU governance and analyse the consequential progress towards
democratizing the European Union. To begin, I provide some background on the
motivation behind the Treaty of Lisbon, before moving onto the major proposals
within the Treaty. Firstly, I examine the granting of enhanced supervisory,
budgetary and legislative powers to the European Parliament. I pay particular
attention to how the introduction of the Ordinary Legislative Procedure has
positively impacted the law-making capabilities of the Parliament. Secondly, I
provide an analysis of the changes to voting procedures within the Council of
the EU. The Lisbon Treaty’s removal of the triple-majority threshold has
allowed for significant criticism from opponents. Before offering my concluding
remarks, I briefly explore the Treaty’s impact on public regard for EU-level
governance and what entails for the future integration of Europe.
the European Union, the process of achieving a more efficient and integrated
Europe is ongoing. The Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union
and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed by heads of state on
the 13th of December 2007, has been crucial to the continuity of
this process. However, the goal of creating a wholly democratized EU has not
yet been reached and the deep-rooted ‘democratic deficit’ remains.
Nevertheless, the Lisbon Treaty has undoubtedly incited a significant
institutional transformation of the European Union (Jourdain, 2015). I aim to
outline the major developments within the Lisbon Treaty and the consequences of
these changes on EU governance. Strategies to further legitimize the European
Parliament have included the enhancement of the Parliament’s legislative role
and greater budgetary controls, in addition to furthered supervisory powers
concerning the functioning of the European Commission. The voting procedures of
the Council have been heavily criticized since the Treaty of Nice (2003) had
entered into force (Häge, 2014). The
Lisbon Treaty has since sought to provide a more efficient law-making process for
the EU. Nevertheless, public engagement in European Union activity remains
precariously low, adding further strain to the democratic dilemma. The future direction
of the European project depends on the understanding of the governmental ramifications
of the Lisbon Treaty.
of the Lisbon Treaty
The European Union’s ambition to establish a Constitutional Treaty collapsed
in spring 2005 following a double rejection by two of the European Union’s
founding states, the French and Dutch, via national referenda (Streinz, 2008). The
EU understood that the proposal of a whole new structure – involving the total
repeal of existing treaties and substituting them with a complete constitution
– was not a popular concept among the citizens of Europe. Evidently, there was
a rejection of perceived “statist aspirations” (Carbone, 2010, p. 25). For
Brussels, a two year ‘period of reflection’ on the Constitutional question was
required. Intergovernmental discussion and debate resulted in the proposition
of an amending Treaty rather than one with Constitutional components. The
British Foreign Office notably reassured British citizens that the, now
officially titled, Reform Treaty “will not
contain any of the symbols of the Union, the anthem, flag and motto. It will
not fundamentally change the relationship between the EU and the Member States”
(Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 2007, p.5). Of course, this message simply displayed
the general ‘feeling’ of European Union citizens at that time.
The European Commission’s public opinion
study, the Eurobarometer survey, revealed that in 2008 the percentage of EU
citizens who see themselves as “national only” had risen by 4% compared to
2005. Furthermore, the number of EU citizens who see themselves “national and European” had fallen by 6% during
that same period (The European Commission, 2013). For the European Union, it
was seen as an utmost necessity to change public sentiment to allow for the
progress of the European project. The function of the Reform Treaty,
subsequently renamed as the Treaty of Lisbon, was to amend the pre-existing “Treaty
on European Union” as well as performing the amendment and renaming of the “Treaty
Establishing the European Community” to the “Treaty on the Functioning of the
European Union” (Bonde, 2008, p.49).
An empowered European Parliament
the Treaty of Lisbon, there was a strong emphasis on improving the democratic
legitimacy of the European Union. The European Parliament, being the sole
institution consisting of directly elected members, was deemed as the most
advantageous starting point for change. Critically, the Lisbon Treaty
maintained the importance of democratic representation within the European
Parliament for all Union citizens (art. 10.1 TEU; 10.2 TEU, cited in Mayoral,
2011). A key method of providing this representation was through expanding the
capabilities of the European Parliament. The provision of new legislative,
supervisory and budgetary powers has enabled the European Parliament to have a strengthened
role within the EU. Additionally, the changes have also assisted in rebalancing
the decision-making powers of the institutions of the European Union (Poljaková
and Lannon, 2011).
One of these changes was the inclusion of the
Ordinary Legislative Procedure (OLP); now the most frequently used
decision-making method within the European Union, affecting 85 policy areas.
The process involves both the Council (of the EU) and the European Parliament
determining whether to approve the proposals of the European Commission –
acting as co-legislators. Two initial readings of legislation must take place
before an agreement is reached between the two institutions
(consilium.europa.eu, 2017). Failure to reach a conclusion over the two readings
will result in “the President of the Council, in agreement with the President
of the European Parliament … convening a meeting of the Conciliation
Committee” (art. 294.8b, TFEU). The Conciliation Committee’s amended proposal
of the legislative text will then be adopted (or abandoned) upon the conclusion
of a third and final reading (art. 294.13, TFEU). The Ordinary Legislative
Procedure has consolidated the ‘co-decision’ powers of the European Parliament,
while also significantly expanding the scope of policy areas for that it is
used. Certain policies such as tax legislation, remain untouched by the OLP.
Rather constructively, the introduction of
the OLP has created a situation where MEPs are more accountable for the actions
of the EU through their voting behaviour. Through the Lisbon Treaty’s expansion
of policy areas requiring the OLP, MEPs have a more extensive duty to their
constituents. Nevertheless, the inconveniences of this situation are undesirable.
This increased legislative role of MEPs has, in consequence, led to a rapid
decline in the total number of non-legislative resolutions and ‘own initiative
reports’. These ‘non-legislative’ opportunities are often harnessed by MEPs, as
they possess the right to request the Commission to explore a particular policy
idea (Maurer, 2008). An MEP will often choose to pursue a policy that bears
particular significance to their constituents, somewhat similar to the function
of a Private Members Bill in the British Parliament. Despite this, there is “no
obligation whatsoever for the Commission to comply with such a request, nor to
draft any proposal in accordance with the wishes of Parliament” (van der Laan,
For the European Parliament, a meaningful step
towards democratization would involve the extension of powers beyond the
current framework and to allow the only directly elected institution to
initiate legislation. Citizens of the European Union would unquestionably
support the notion of further empowerment of their representatives. At present,
the European Commission remains the only EU institution empowered to initiate legislation
(van der Laan, 2003).
Despite this, the additional budgetary and
supervisory capabilities of the European Parliament, introduced by the Lisbon
Treaty, have somewhat offset this democratic shortfall. With regard to the
budgetary procedure, the European Parliament has been placed on a more equal
footing with the Council. The Lisbon Treaty has reconsidered the terminology
concerning budgetary decisions; draft budgets no longer categorise expenditure as
“compulsory” or “non-compulsory”. For the European Parliament, “compulsory”
expenditure was situated outside of its jurisdiction and therefore, was unable
to be amended. Large sections of the budget remained protected from
parliamentary interference. Post-Lisbon however, the distinction between “compulsory”
and “non-compulsory” expenditures has been removed, allowing the European
Parliament to cooperate closely with the Council on all budgetary decisions (Poljaková
and Lannon, 2011, p.31).
In addition to these budgetary changes, the
Treaty of Lisbon has granted the European Parliament the responsibility of
electing the President of the Commission via majority vote, based on a proposal
from the European Council. Furthermore, the Vice-President and the other
European Commissioners must also appear before the European Parliament for a
subsequent vote of approval (Novak and Raffaelli, 2017). These changes have
allowed the European Parliament to gain a certain degree of control over the
Commission, thus providing the directly elected MEPs with a more commanding
A new voting
For the European Union, the search for
greater democratic legitimacy continued with the modification of voting
procedures within the Council of the EU. Importantly,
the Lisbon Treaty administered a revision to the technical definition of a ‘Qualified
Majority’: “As of 1st November 2014, at least 55% of the
members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing member
states comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union” (art. 16.4, TEU;
Sieberson, 2010). This alteration to Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) was
devised to help combat the potential grid-lock of decision making within the
Council. Recent EU enlargements were deemed to exacerbate the issue of
grid-lock, as the previous triple-majority system was deemed far too complex. To
reach a settlement under the triple-majority framework, a majority of member
states, 62% of EU population and also 74% of member states’ weighted votes were
required (Consilium.europa.eu, 2014).
Advocates would argue that the present QMV
mechanism has improved the efficiency and speed of law passing, contributing to
further successes for European integration. In addition to the relatively low thresholds
of the double-majority system, the blocking of legislation has also become more
challenging. With the changes set out in the Lisbon Treaty, a minimum of four
member states will be necessary to prevent legislation from passing – simply, the
largest member states now find it far more difficult to collude against the
smaller ones (Häge, 2014).
Despite the increased ease of passing
legislation, questions have been asked about the democratic legitimacy of these
voting procedure changes. One particular example is the manner by which the Treaty
of Lisbon has introduced the Qualified Majority Voting system to significantly more
voting areas compared to Pre-Lisbon, controversially at the expense of
unanimity voting (Sieberson, 2010). Critics of
Qualified Majority Voting maintain that the patience required to reach
unanimous conclusions is wholly necessary in order to preserve the support for
furthered European integration. For these critics, QMV merely provides a faster
decision-making process, at the expense of common ground (sought through intergovernmental
bargaining) and wider support for policy proposals (Smulders, 2014).
Altogether, the Lisbon
Treaty has administered the Council with a more effective and streamlined decision-making
platform. The lowering of certain majority thresholds within the Lisbon Treaty
has allowed for a greater rate of law-making success. Nevertheless, this
pursuit of rapid European integration has come at the expense of democratic
credibility, albeit negligible.
The wider impact of Lisbon
The Lisbon Treaty has had very little positive
impact on public engagement with the European Union. The 2014 European
Parliament Elections, taking place roughly 5 years after the Treaty of Lisbon
had entered into force, produced the lowest ever voter turnout in EU history (42.54%)
(europarl.europa.eu, 2014). For the institutions of the European Union, efficient
governance requires the unconcealed trust of citizens. For this reason, the
Treaty of Lisbon sought to reverse the current trend of diminishing public
support for political institutions. The European Union itself, has displayed a
particularly low level of approval in comparison to many national governing
bodies of Europe. Justification of this stems from the idea that EU institutions
“are relatively new in the political landscape and, most importantly, are being
constantly refashioned” (Arnold, 2012, p.1). Personally, the meagre voter turnout
during the 2014 election simply confirms the general apathy towards EU-level
The Treaty of Lisbon has substantially transformed
the institutional fabric of the European Union. For citizens of the European Union,
the further empowerment of the European Parliament has been deemed a success
for representative democracy. The introduction of the Ordinary Legislative
Procedure has placed the European Parliament on equal footing to the Council
concerning legislative powers. Furthermore, the granting of greater budgetary
controls and supervisory rights to directly elected representatives has been
constructive. The modification of the Qualified Majority Voting threshold has
also stream-lined the legislative procedure for the Council of the EU, resulting
in a more efficient law-making process. However, the removal of the
triple-majority mechanism and the reduction in the usage of unanimity have been
criticised as backward steps for the EU regarding democratic legitimization. However, the inadequate turnout of the 2014
European Parliament election highlights the EU’s ongoing battle to combat
apathy. We can conclude that despite the Treaty of Lisbon’s numerous effective governmental
changes, it has ultimately failed to remove the democratic deficit.
(2015). The Powers and Competences of the European Parliament under the Treaty
of Lisbon. E-International Relations Students. Online Available at: http://www.e-ir.info/2015/09/20/the-powers-and-competences-of-the-european-parliament-under-the-treaty-of-lisbon/Accessed
16 Dec. 2017.
(2014). The Lisbon Treaty’s change to Council voting rules will have
important implications for the democratic legitimacy of the EU. Online
EUROPPBLOG. Available at:
Accessed 16 Dec. 2017.
(2008). The European Constitution after the Failure of the Constitutional
Treaty. Zeitschrift für öffentliches
Recht Vol.63: Page.159. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00708-008-0208-7
(2010). National politics and European integration. Cheltenham, U.K: Edward Elgar.
& Commonwealth Office (2007). The Reform Treaty: the British approach
to the European Union intergovernmental conference. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, pp.3-20.
Commission (2013). Eurobarometer | 40 Years. The Directorate-General for Communication (DG COMM).
(2008). From EU Constitution to Lisbon Treaty. Brussels: Foundation for EU Democracy and the EU
Democrats in cooperation with Group for Independence and Democracy in the
European Parliament, pp.45-49.
version of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), 13 December 2007. 2008/C 115/01.
The result of amendments introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. Official Journal of the European Union
(C 306/1). Entered into force on 1 December 2009.
version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Signed 13
December 2007. 2008/C 115/01. The result of amendments introduced by the Treaty
of Lisbon. Official Journal of the
European Union (C 306/1). Entered into force on 1 December 2009.
(2011). Democratic Improvements in the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty:
Institutional Changes Regarding Democratic Government in the EU. European
Union Democracy Observatory (EUDO).
J. and Lannon, E. (2011). The powers of the European Parliament under the
Lisbon Treaty. Ghent University,
(2017). The ordinary legislative procedure. Online Available at:
28th Dec. 2017.
(2008). The European Parliament after Lisbon: Policy-making and
Control. EU – CONSENT, online 19, pp.17-18. Available at:
http://www.eu-consent.net/content.asp?contentid=1737 Accessed 29th Dec. 2017.
Laan, L. (2003). The case for a stronger European Parliament. London: Centre for European Reform, pp.13-30.
and Raffaelli, R. (2017). The Treaty of Lisbon | EU fact sheets | European
Parliament. Online Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/en/displayFtu.html?ftuId=FTU_1.1.5.html
Accessed 29th Dec. 2017.
Stephen C. (2010) Inching Toward EU Supranationalism? Qualified Majority Voting
and Unanimity Under the Treaty of Lisbon. Virginia Journal of International Law,
Vol. 50, No. 4, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1664069
Accessed 30th Dec 2017.
(2014). New Council qualified majority Voting Rules In effect. Online
Accessed 30th Dec. 2017.
(2014). QMV versus Unanimity. Online POLITICO. Available at:
https://www.politico.eu/article/qmv-versus-unanimity/ Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.
(2012). Public Opinion and EU Institutions. DECISION-MAKING IN THE
EUROPEAN UNION BEFORE AND AFTER LISBON (DEUBAL) Policy Brief, online p.1.
Available at: http://ces.ufl.edu/files/ChristineArnold_DEUBAL_060512.pdf
Accessed 3 Jan. 2018.
(2014). Results of the 2014 European elections. Online Available at:
Accessed 3 Jan. 2018.