The lisbon treaty

The Lisbon Treaty – Does This Lay The Federal Debate To Rest Or Bring Us A Step Closer To A Federal Europe?


In considering whether the Lisbon Treaty lays the federal debate to rest, or in fact brings us a step closer to a federal Europe, this report first outlines the nature and scope of the Treaty and its development to put this discussion into context. This report then evaluates as to whether there is, in fact, already a federal Europe in place on the basis of EU's ongoing development. More specifically, this report also considers whether and how the Lisbon Treaty's recent enforcement will impact upon the federal debate regarding the EU and its development. This report will also relate issues of European and domestic law in the United Kingdom (UK) together with a view to then formulating an opinion on the impact of the Lisbon Treaty regarding the development of a federal Europe before concluding with a summary of the key points derived from this discussion.

Introduction – The Nature & Scope Of The Lisbon Treaty

The Lisbon Treaty was signed by European Union Member States in December 2007 and entered into force almost two years later. With this in mind, the Lisbon Treaty was enacted to amend the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and the Treaty of Rome 1957 (the forerunner to the EC Treaty) and made significant changes to this legislation including allowing for increased qualified majority voting in the European Council of Ministers, the European Parliament's increased involvement in the legislative process through the recognition of more extensive co-decisions with the European Council of Ministers. The Lisbon Treaty also eliminated the previously relied upon EU 'pillar system' and created a long-term President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy to achieve the formulation of a united position on EU policies. Moreover, the Lisbon Treaty also served to make the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union 2001 legally binding in the circumstances across the EU.

Nevertheless, the Lisbon Treaty's recognised aim was to complete the process of reform started by the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997 along with the Treaty of Nice of 2001 to enhance the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the EU and improve the coherency of its actions with a view to developing a more singular entity to represent the interests of all EU Member States. At the same time, however, opponents of the Lisbon Treaty have argued that its overall remit would centralise the EU and weaken democracy within the EU's individual Member States by moving the power away from the national electorates. Furthermore, the negotiations made under the Lisbon Treaty to modify EU institutions began in 2001 with the development of the European Constitution that failed due to its rejection by Dutch and French voters in 2005. Therefore, the Lisbon Treaty was proposed as an amendment to implement many of the reforms included in the European Constitution and was originally intended to be ratified by all EU Member States by the end of 2008 that failed due to its initial rejection by the Irish electorate only later reversed in 2009 as part of a second referendum.

Is There A Federal Europe Already In Place?

Even prior to the Lisbon Treaty's enactment and enforcement, in the best part of the last sixty years a supranational system of governance has arisen from out of the process of European integration of the membership of the European Community (more latterly the EU) that many consider to be reflective of the former UK Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill's belief in the need for “a kind of United States of Europe” so as to allow “hundreds of millions of toilers . . . to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living”. More recently, however, the laws development since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 has seen new intergovernmental elements introduced alongside more federal systems so it has become increasingly difficult to define the EU. Such a view is founded upon the fact the EU operates through principles of both intergovernmentalism and supranationalism so the EU has not been officially recognised as a federation.

Nevertheless, it has been recognised “the EU has the necessary minimal attributes of a federal system and crucially the EU is riven with many of the same tensions that afflict federal systems”. In addition, even where the EU is not actually recognised as a federation in view of the Lisbon Treaty's recent enforcement, “the Member States remain the `masters' of the treaties” and “the EU lacks a real `tax and spend' capacity”. Such a view is not only restricted to academics, however, opposition from the UK has arisen regarding the inclusion of 'federal' in the European Constitution leading to policy makers resorting to 'Community' in its stead. However, just because someone calls the EU a federation does not mean it actually is because it lacks some key characteristics including the fact the European budget does not finance a lot of the EU's economic activity. Moreover, all of the EU's Member States are free to have their own foreign relations and military and can also opt out of agreements that they oppose. Therefore, whilst it is undeniable the EU has some control over its Member States, they still have a high degree of sovereignty so all treaties must be agreed by Member States that also seek legally binding guarantees such legislation will not affect their individual positions.

What Impact Has The Lisbon Treaty Had Upon The Moves In The UK?

To then better assess the impact of the Lisbon Treaty, the effect of the UK's signing of the Treaty is to be considered. This is because whilst, in view of its membership of the EU, the UK is subject to the EC Treaty and the principles of 'direct effect' and 'supremacy' emanating from the European Court of Justice, allied to the enactment of the European Communities Act 1972, regarding the application of European law to the domestic legal system, the signing of the Lisbon Treaty and its recent enforcement has still been subject to some significant debate. Such a view is founded upon the fact that whereas previously the UK had retained a high degree of sovereignty - in the same way as most of the rest of the EU's membership – the Lisbon Treaty's final enforcement has meant that the UK has lost the right to veto in over 40 significant policy areas much to the detriment of the ongoing development of the national legal system and the maintenance of British identity.

For many in the opposition it is a significant bone of contention the UK government has allowed such a concession of power to Brussels. To this end the leader of the Conservatives, one David Cameron MP, has previously promised the British people a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty under a Conservative government - although he recently retreated somewhat at least partially because, as previous opposition leader William Hague MP recognised, “Now that the treaty has become European law and is going to enter into force, that means that a referendum can no longer prevent the creation of the president of the European council and the loss of British national vetoes”. Such steps are significant because they are representative of the idea the EU is now taking on all the trappings of a nation state so analogies with the United States of America - with the EU seemingly also becoming a system of states - are now all the more credible for describing the impact of the Lisbon Treaty as individual EU Member States powers become increasingly limited. However, it is arguable that, as things seemingly move ever more rapidly towards a federal Europe, the laws of individual Member States like the UK are likely to become even more subservient to that of the decisions and enactments of legislation coming out of Brussels.


To conclude, it is clear the Lisbon Treaty has brought the EU (and the UK which is party to it) a step closer to the development of what is a federal Europe. This is because, as has already been alluded to as part of this report, the remit of the Treaty has served to impact upon previous enactments regarding the development of a constitution of the EU. As a result, it would seem that more of individual EU Member States – like the UK's – power and sovereignty is now likely to be conceded to Brussels along with the loss of a nation's people's identities. That this is the case is effectively illustrated by the fact that the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty have allowed for the creation and establishment of positions like that of a President of the European Council that are more in keeping with a nation as opposed to a Union of nations. Therefore, it would seem, on the basis of the analysis that has been undertaken for this report, that the EU is rapidly moving towards the establishment of what is a federal Europe now that the Lisbon Treaty has been enforced.


Text Books

'Halsbury's Laws of England' Lexis Nexis, Butterworths (2008)

Keleman. R. D 'Built to Last? The Durability of EU Federalism' Oxford University Press (2007)


Churchill. W 'Speech to the Academic Youth' Zurich, Switzerland, Europainfo (1946)


Cordon. G & Churcher. J 'Cameron Rejects Calls to Commit to Lisbon Treaty Referendum' The Independent (4th October 2009)


Evans-Pritchard. A 'Giscard's Federal Ruse to Protect Blair' Daily Telegraph (8th July 2003)


Hitchens. P 'So our 1,000 Years of History ends like this?' Daily Mail (6 October 2009)


Kirkup. J & Waterfield. B 'Lisbon Treaty: More of Britain's Powers Surrendered to Brussels' Daily Telegraph (3rd November 2009)


Risse. T & Börzel. T. A 'The European Union as an Emerging Federal System' Jean Monnet Center at the New York University School of Law (2000)


Official Documents

Bonde. J. P ‘From EU Constitution to Lisbon Treaty' Foundation for EU Democracy & the EU Democrats in cooperation with Group for Independence and Democracy in the European Parliament (2008)

European Union Committee of the House of Lords ‘The Treaty of Lisbon: an Impact Assessment' London: Stationary Office (2008)

Table Of Cases

Case 26/62 N.V. Algemene Tramp. & Expeditie Onderneming Van Gend & Loos v. Nederlandse administratie der belastingen [1963] ECR 1

Case 6/64 Costa v. Ente Nazionale per l'Energia Elettrica (ENEL) [1964] ECR 585

Table Of Statutes

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union 2001

European Communities Act 1972

Maastricht Treaty 1992

Treaty of Amsterdam 1997

Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty on European Union & the Treaty Establishing the European Community, 3rd December 2007

Treaty of Nice 2001

Treaty of Rome 1957 (now the EC Treaty)