EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty of Lisbon, amending the Treaty on European Union (Treaty of Maastricht 296Kb PDF) and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed in Lisbon on 13 December 2007 (2007/C 306/01), introduces important changes to the institutional framework of the European Union. Its main goal is to improve decision-making processes in the European Union in order to take into account the accession of new Member States.

To achieve this aim, the Treaty extends qualified majority voting to more policy areas, particularly in the field of justice and home affairs. It also defines a new double majority rule. In addition, it introduces a permanent Council President for a two-and-a-half year period, as well as a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Furthermore, it enhances the role of the European Parliament and the national parliaments in the legislative process of the European Union. The Treaty also reduces the number of commissioners and MEPs. Finally, it creates a single legal entity for the European Union.

The Treaty of Lisbon includes enhancements to the social dimension of the European Union. It adds the non-discrimination principle and equality between women and men to the values of the European Union. It sets the following objectives: full employment and social progress in a social market economy; the combating of social exclusion and discrimination; solidarity between generations; the promotion of economic, social and territorial cohesion; and solidarity between the Member States.

A number of so-called ‘horizontal’ social clauses stipulate that all European Union policies must take into account social and environmental requirements and so guarantee that the various policies and actions of the Union are coherent. For example, Article 5a of the Treaty contains an obligation to meet the requirements of promoting a high level of employment, of guaranteeing adequate social protection, of combating social exclusion and of ensuring a high level of education, training and protection of human health. Other horizontal clauses state that the social dimension must be taken into account in all actions of the Union. This would include the combating of inequality, promotion of gender equality and the fight against discrimination.

The Treaty also officially recognises the role of the social partners, particularly the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment.

The Treaty inserts a reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (80Kb PDF) into Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), making this charter legally binding. A protocol added to the Treaty, however, concedes that the Charter does not create rights enforceable in Poland or the United Kingdom (UK). In the case of the UK, the British government had particular reservations with regard to the social and labour rights of Title IV (Solidarity) of the Charter. While Poland declared its support for this part of the Charter, it had serious reservations concerning the ‘sphere of public morality’ and family law.

The Treaty of Lisbon aims to solve the institutional impasse following the failed referenda on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (751Kb PDF) in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The main differences concern the form of the Treaty. Unlike the Constitutional Treaty, which intended to replace the previous EU treaties with one consolidated text, the Treaty of Lisbon consists of a series of amendments to the TEU and the Treaty establishing the European Community, now renamed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, 450Kb PDF; see Treaties of Rome).

The Treaty of Lisbon was scheduled to be ratified by all Member States by the end of 2008 to allow it to come into force by the target date of 1 January 2009. However, Ireland, the only country that is bound by its constitution to hold a referendum, voted against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in its referendum of 12 June 2008. At the European summit on 12 December 2008, Ireland committed itself to holding a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty by November 2009. In exchange for this commitment, Ireland was able to receive concessions from the other EU Member States. These include a guarantee that each Member State will retain a commissioner in future European Commissions, as well as a promise that the EU would not impose rules on Ireland concerning taxation, on ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage, or interfere with its traditional neutrality. The second Irish referendum was held on 2 October 2009 and resulted in a vote of 67.1% in favour of the Treaty and 32.9% against.

All other Member States ratified the Treaty through their national parliaments. The last country to ratify the Treaty was the Czech Republic, on 3 November 2009. The Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009.

European social partners have welcomed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty despite their disappointment with the Treaty’s lack of ambition. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) issued a resolution (62Kb PDF) on the treaty on 1–2 December 2009, stating that ‘the new Treaty is a better one than the current provisions of the Nice Treaty but it does little to advance social progress’. The ETUC would have liked, for example, to see qualified majority voting become the usual procedure for social policy initiatives. However, the ETUC acknowledges that, compared to the Treaty of Nice, the Lisbon Treaty is a step forward in the right direction, particularly because it makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union legally binding, although it is opposed to the ‘opt-outs’ granted for the UK and Poland. The employer organisation BusinessEurope welcomed the Irish referendum vote and the coming into force of the Treaty, stating in a press release (137Kb PDF) after the Irish vote that this will translate into more and better jobs. Both BusinessEurope and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) see the institutional reforms as a precondition to achieving more ambitious objectives.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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