Sunday 16 December 2007

EU Treaty of Lisbon: Member States

Surely, not only one, but 27 European governments must have signed away their countries, freedoms, democracy, the rule of law as well as their cultures, traditions and languages on that fatal 13 December 2007 in Lisbon, didn’t they?

Everything worth living and dying for was crushed by the new evil empire born, the European Superstate, wasn’t it?

Alice in Wonderland never had the hallucinating experiences a few glimpses of the English tabloids and blogosphere offer in abundance. Vitriolic distortion seems to be par for the course.

Judging from the shouted comments, few of the scare-mongering crowd have read the existing EU and EC Treaties or the amending Treaty of Lisbon, and even fewer have understood their contents.

The government of the United Kingdom has, along with 26 other governments, signed the Reform Treaty of the European Union, named the Treaty of Lisbon. But the UK government and Parliament have not stood up for the amending Treaty.

Mainly, they have been busy with explaining and exploring where they have managed to obstruct the progress of others and how convincingly they have been able to distance themselves from the rest of Europe by various opt-outs and quibbles over wording.

Instead of relinquishing new powers to the European Union, the Member States have mainly tinkered with the internal “rules of procedure” in order to make the enlarged Union become a bit less ineffective in dealing with the competences it already has.

Effectiveness, democracy and solidarity have advanced timorously. On the whole, the European Union is not going to be able to act decisively on the world stage, in spite of growing global challenges.

The foreign, security and defence policies of the European Union continue to be highly intergovernmental and ineffective, requiring unanimity in crucial decisions (liberum veto) and practically outside democratic scrutiny at the Union level. That the individual governments lack the capacity to meet the main challenges effectively, seems to be a minor concern.


Let us look at what the amended Treaty on European Union actually says.

After the basic Treaty structure, values and objectives of the European Union, we reach some of the umpteen reminders that the EU at this stage is mainly a creature of Member States’ governments, and that the Union is held on a short leash (well too short to achieve its most important aims).

Instead of a list of overwhelming powers being relinquished by the governments, we are confronted with a variety of clauses hedging in the capacity of the European Union to act.

Up front, the EU Treaty resembles the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not …

Time and again, we are reminded of what the Union shall not do, irrespectively of if the Member States can meet the challenges effectively on their own.


The new Article 3a, paragraph 1, tells us that the European Union exercises only the powers conferred upon it. The principle of attributed powers limits the scope of Union legislation and action. Everything the EU does, has to be based on the Treaties.

All other powers (competences) remain with the Member States. And the Member States themselves, through their representatives, man the European Council and the Council, the two most important institutions of the EU.

The European Union may not be fully democratic, but it is subject to the rule of law.

In addition to the principle of equality of Member States, Article 3a, paragraph 2, contains a host of pointers on the questions remaining within the purview of the Member States. National identities, political and constitutional structures, regional and local self-government, territorial integrity, law and order as well as national security (mentioned twice) remain, fundamentally, matters for the Member States. (This follows the wording of the Constitutional Treaty, Article I-5, paragraph 1, except for the mainly repetitive words now added: In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.)

Since the European Union is a joint effort, established to promote common interests, Article 3a, paragraph 3, reminds us that team efforts are needed. On the whole, the European Union lacks the administrative machinery needed to execute its acts and decisions. Therefore, the Member States have an obligation to fulfil these obligations. This shall be done in a spirit of loyal cooperation. (Article 10 of the current TEC is essentially the same as the second and third subparagraphs of Article 3a(3); Article I-5, paragraph 2, of the Constitutional Treaty would have been essentially the same as the whole paragraph 3 of Article 3a).


The Treaty on European Union, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon (CIG 14/07). Article 3 is repealed and the following Article 3a is inserted:

1. In accordance with Article 3b, competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.

2. The Union shall respect the equality of the Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government. It shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.

3. Pursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation, the Union and the Member States shall, in full mutual respect, assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.

The Member States shall take any appropriate measure, general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising out of the Treaties or resulting from the acts of the institutions of the Union.

The Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives.


The Member States are mentioned ad nauseam in the amended Treaty on European Union, but otherwise I see very little to merit popular uprisings or grave insults. Tedious stuff, mainly.

I realise that I am a hack, totally lacking the inventive spirit of tabloid journalists.

Ralf Grahn


  1. With respect, I think it is you who haven't understood the true purpose of this Treaty:

    Article I-19 of the constitution, gives the definition of the "institutional framework" and a statement of its aims. These are expressed in terms of the "Union" telling the institutions that their aims are to: "promote its values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".

    Now, the crucial point here is that the first three of these objectives are entirely new. And, of these, the third is especially important. It is to: "serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States".

    However, this is but a curtain raiser to another short insert in paragraph 12, which states (by way of one of the institutional changes): "the European Council (transformation into an institution…)".

    This is of huge significance. Originally set up in 1972 by Jean Monnet, the European Council was presented, during its first meeting under president Pompidou as a "fireside chat" between the heads of states and governments of the then nine members of the EEC.

    Indeed, the first meeting was in fact held in Pompidou's private salon, with members lounging in armchairs and even sitting by the fire, but Monnet had far greater ambitions for it. He styled it as nothing less than a "provisional government" of Europe, its task being to steer Europe though the "transition from national to collective sovereignty" (Memoirs, p. 503).

    However, as is the way with the incremental development of the European Union, the European Council enjoyed a half-life outside the treaties, acquiring the appellation "summit", and reported almost universally as such by the media, growing from its origins as an informal "fireside chat" to the full-blown monster that it is today.

    But, while it remained, in treaty terms, an informal body, it was formally recognised in the Nice Treaty (Article 4) which first defined its role as to "provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development" and to "define the general political guidelines thereof".

    Thus, while it was seen as a meeting of heads of states and governments (now assisted by foreign affairs ministers), the inference being that they were representing their respective nations, the European Council was being drawn into the treaty maw. Although not yet a fully-fledged institution, it role was being more clearly defined as a representative body of the European Union.

    Now, with this proposed change, the European Council is being defined fully as an institution. Furthermore, its aims have been set out, which it shares with the Commission, the EU Parliament and the European Court of Justice. It now will have developed into Monnet's "provisional government", acting, to all intents and purposes, as the formal "cabinet" of Europe.

    The problem, of course, is that the members are still made up from the heads of state and governments of the member states. But, rather than representing their respective nations, they now act as a corporate body – an institution – the aims of which are, in respect of the Union, to: "promote its values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".

    Crucially, the requirement to serve the interest of the Union comes first, the "citizens" come second and the Member States come third. The order is neither accidental nor without significance. The European Council has to put the Union first. Tony Blair's "us" is the European Union.

    Serving the EU is, de facto, what the European Council already does, but this is now to become de jure. That such an important change is tucked into a paragraph of an obscure document which few will read – and fewer will understand – is another of those dangerous and deliberate obfuscations, designed to defeat easy analysis.

    It also represents a very significant transfer of power from member states, our leaders having been hijacked and impressed into the service of the Union – all the more dangerous because, as far as the media and the general public is concerned, they are part of an invisible institution, one that will, to them, remain a "summit".

    So in future, when you hear of some "summit" of EU presidents, Prime Ministers or sundry other Heads of State, read "EU Government".

  2. Leda, thank you for your views.

    I think that it would be best to take the Treaty of Lisbon as the basis for future discussion, not the Constitution, since the new Treaty is the one which now enters the ratification phase and which possibly will enter into force.

    Yes, as far as I remember, you are right: Monnet wanted to create a "provisional government" for Europe, although it started as much less than that.

    I decided to advance Article by Article in my writing, so it is going to take a while before I reach the institutions, but we have to remember that the European Council is a rickety construct, deciding consensually.

    Still, I think I mentioned the (intergovernmental) European Council and the Council as the two most important institutions of the European Union.

    Perhaps more than the formal recognition of the European Council as an institution, its new President may turn out to be a recognisable character for the EU.

    The citizens' interests through the directly elected European Parliament and the general interest represented by the Commission, are somewhat less powerful than the intergovernmental bodies mentioned.


Due deluge of spam comments no more comments are accepted.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.