Wednesday

14th Nov 2018

European Council seen as winner under Lisbon Treaty

  • The Lisbon Treaty is shaking up the political landscape in Brussels (Photo: European Commission)

Not quite six months in place, the EU's Lisbon Treaty has already led to a significant shift in the Brussels power landscape, with many of its main actors still trying to find their feet in the new order.

The new rulebook, in force since December 2009 after many years of negotiation and then ratification, greatly increases MEPs' co-legislating powers and creates a beefed up foreign policy post and a president of the EU council.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But many of its effects were not written into the treaty and are only slowly coming to light as the EU capital goes about its daily business.

The changes have led to a relative decrease in the power of the European Commission, in past times the engine of EU integration, and the Council of Ministers, representing member states. In contrast, the European Council - the union's collected premiers and presidents and now an institution with its own budget and president - and the parliament are are winning out in the power stakes, say academics.

This has been most evident in the current debate over increased economic governance in the EU, where member states, rather than the commission, have taken the lead in the discussions.

Referring to the "competitive environment" among EU institutions now, European studies Professor Joerg Monar, from the College of Europe, says the parliament and the European Council are the "primary poles of power" in the EU. The commission meanwhile appears "more and more squeezed" between the two.

"The European Council has become the true policy-maker of the European Union," agreed the University of Bologna's Professor Lucia Serena Rossi during a conference discussing the post-Lisbon Treaty EU on Tuesday (25 May).

MEPs, for their part, now have co-decision powers on more than 90 percent of legislation, including in whole new ares such as farm policy and justice and home affairs. Euro-deputies also have the right to be informed about international agreements.

Maros Sefcovic, institutional affairs commissioner, said that this has led to a "cultural change" in Brussels. Indicating the commission's potential unease with the new power shift, Mr Sefcovic urged EU member states to remember the "community spirit" noting that it is not only important what kind of decisions are taken but how they are taken.

The commission's role in the future will be a "resolute guardian of the treaties" as well as capitalising on its "undisputed technical expertise" and "right of legislative initiative."

No more hiding behind the veto

The Lisbon Treaty also has implications for how member states act in Brussels. Referring to his past life as Slovakia's EU ambassador, Mr Sefcovic noted that the dynamic in the Council, where countries take policy decisions, is "totally different."

"Now the member states do not have the possibility of hiding behind the veto. They have to come up with much stronger argumentation, much faster. They must be much more persuasive because the decision is in the end taken anyway."

The EU's top politicians are also still learning to cope with the treaty. Richard Corbett, an advisor to President Van Rompuy, notes that his boss and Mr Barroso have had to make a special effort to get on as their roles overlap.

Both politicians now have a breakfast meeting every Monday. "They're adults, they know they must make it work," says Mr Corbett.

Mr Van Rompuy, who has carved out a role as first EU president that is not so directly 'hands-on', but at the same time more than just an agenda planner, said that every treaty has "gaps and uncertainties" in it.

He pointed to the lack of links between the EU's different parts, meaning he has to be careful to informally "establish contacts" with all EU leaders (he plans to visit national capitals this year and next). Just recently, meanwhile, he told political group leaders in the parliament that he would brief them on European Council meetings on the evening they happen.

Other effects have yet to be felt. The European Court of Justice has jurisdiction when the European Council takes a decision by vote, noted Professor Rossi, while the possibility of national parliaments to vet EU laws on whether they are being carried out at the correct level has yet to make an impact.

But the treaty will have to be place for years to know how many of its aspects will play out, prompting some to refer to the famous quote by China's first premier Zhou Enlai when asked about the effects of the 1789 French Revolution. "It's too early to say," he reportedly replied.

Exclusive

EU commission redacted too much in 'WiFi4EU' papers

Secretariat-general of the European Commission decides that information redacted by directorate-general Communications Networks, Content and Technology should have been made public.

Mogherini's tech experts talk more freely in secret

The EU's foreign service says there are no "records" of the Global Tech Panel meetings, but acknowledged foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini writes summary letters. Five MEPs worried about killer robots suggest the panel's composition is skewed.

News in Brief

  1. Draft Brexit deal on London cabinet agenda on Wednesday
  2. EU proposes no visa for UK citizens after Brexit
  3. EU parliament 'deeply concerned' on Romania judiciary
  4. Macedonia's ex-PM flees to Hungary, seeks asylum
  5. Cyprus opens first new border crossings in eight years
  6. Putin's Austrian dance partner cancels Moscow visit
  7. Political deadlock over Sweden Democrat influence
  8. Court: Catalan referendum organisers must repay costs

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. EU to review animal welfare strategy
  2. Macron's 'European army': why is everyone talking about it?
  3. Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army
  4. Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline
  5. EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure
  6. EU unable to fully trace €1bn spent on refugees in Turkey
  7. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  8. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us