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Oct 14, 2009 | 16:22 GMT

5 mins read

EU and the Lisbon Treaty, Part 1: The History Behind the Bloc

Polish President Lech Kaczynski signed the Lisbon Treaty on Oct. 10, leaving Czech President Vaclav Klaus as the only European leader that has yet to sign the agreement. The purpose of the Lisbon Treaty is to initiate changes that will affect decision-making that could move Europe toward a more federal system. Editor's Note: This is part one in a three-part series that will examine the effect of the Lisbon Treaty.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski signed the Lisbon Treaty on Oct. 10. Kaczynski's signing now leaves Czech President Vaclav Klaus as the sole remaining European leader that has refused to sign the treaty, which is intended to overhaul the European Union's decision-making and institutions. STRATFOR examines the potential changes in the European Union's institutional structure that the Lisbon Treaty introduces and how they will — or how they could — affect the future of Europe. At its core, the goal of the European Union is to lock Germany into an economic alliance with its neighbors that would make future war unimaginable and "materially impossible." The first iteration of the European Union — the European Coal and Steel Community, created by the 1951 Treaty of Paris — was modest in scale, but hinted at the institutions that today run the European Union. It also set a precedent that the Europeans have followed since: establish strong supranational institutions in the sphere of trade and hope that the institutions spread to political and security realms over time and through practice. The current configuration of the European Union is the result of post-Cold War enthusiasm in Europe believing that an "ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" is possible (an actual goal set out by both the founding 1957 Rome Treaty and repeated in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty). The impetus for greater political coherence was created both by a sense of renewed independence as the Cold War ended and by the reunification of Germany, which greatly troubled the rest of Europe and spurred it to create political structures that would keep Berlin committed to Europe. However, the European Union has never been able to establish consensus on how far and how deep integration should go. Member states have been suspicious of relinquishing their sovereignty to the bureaucrats in Brussels or of giving the core members of the European Union — particularly Germany and France — a decision-making mechanism through which to dominate the rest of the member states. This latter point has been central as the European Union has expanded beyond its original six member states (Belgium, Italy, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany). Member states of the European Union are cognizant of the fact that both Paris and Berlin have an imperial history and resist any institutional structure that would lead to a federal Europe. A confederal framework is therefore welcome by member states that are comfortable with the European Union being nothing more than a glorified trade union. The United Kingdom has traditionally stood apart from Europe and considers the common market an economic benefit, but fears being sidelined by a political union dominated by France and Germany. Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands have roughly the same perspective, with varying degrees of suspicion. Meanwhile, the post-communist states — particularly Poland and the Czech Republic — worry about being excluded by the older member states and have closely guarded their national veto powers. Therefore, the current decision-making system was set up by the 2001 Nice Treaty, which prepared the European Union for its expansion into post-communist Central Europe in 2004 (and 2007 with Bulgaria and Romania). Nice reaffirmed the primacy of national vetoes in most important policy areas and established an onerous voting procedure that gave small and medium member states an upper hand by giving them proportionally more votes than their share of overall European Union population. Proponents of a strong European Union were generally unsatisfied with Nice. Its decision-making rules meant that any one member state could (and frequently did) stop EU decisions outside of the realm of the common market. Furthermore, even on policy decisions that did not need unanimity the weighted voting created a high threshold for decisions to be accepted. The Nice system has proven to be cumbersome, particularly with the expanded European Union of 27 member states. Furthermore, Europe emerged from the 1990s still struggling with the debate of how far its unification project should go. With the Lisbon Treaty, the proponents of a more federal — internationally visible — union have gotten an upper hand. The Lisbon Treaty therefore looks to streamline decision-making and to restart the project toward a federal European Union. But there is still a lot of vagueness in how Europe will implement the changes set out by Lisbon; therefore, all questions regarding the future of Europe depend on how Europeans adopt their own treaty. Moving too fast could mean cracking new institutions and rules. In Part 2 of this series, STRATFOR will take a look at the central changes that the Lisbon Treaty introduces.

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