The Lisbon Treaty: Implications for the United States

by Helena Varnavas November 3 2009, 01:31

I. Introduction


The Czech Republic is the last of 27 European Union member states left to sign the Lisbon Treaty, also known as the Reform Treaty. [1]  It is anticipated to be ratified by the end of 2009 and go into effect January 1, 2010. [2]  The Treaty is an attempt to amend the two main Treaties that currently govern the European Union (EU), [3] with qualities very similar to a European constitution. [4]  If the Treaty is ratified, it will dramatically affect the United States’ place on the global stage by strengthening Europe’s economic and political weight. [5] The Treaty also provides for the development of a common EU defense policy, [6] which could potentially create an EU military structure similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), weakening the transatlantic link. [7] The Obama administration is enthusiastic about this European integration effort, [8] but many U.S. experts fear that a more unified EU could complicate efforts for European support in U.S. initiatives. [9] Implications for the U.S. will be largely influenced by who is appointed the president of the European Council. [10] The greatest affect on the United States by the Lisbon Treaty will be felt if the European Union transforms into a superpower to counter-balance the U.S. in global affairs. [11] This article discusses the current European Union government in Part II, how the EU government will change if the Treaty is ratified in Part III and the potential effects it may have on the United States in Part IV.

II. The Current European Union Government  

The EU is a hybrid intergovernmental and supranational organization in which 27 member governments, five EU institutions, and many other private actors influence what it does. [12] Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey are currently candidate countries. [13] The EU is concerned with agricultural, monetary, regional, environmental, social, immigration, foreign and security policy. [14] The EU’s practical impact is felt in legislation, trade, currency, wealth, the market and aid. [15] Even though the EU is not a federation, it does have its own flag, anthem, currency and policies that deal with other nations. [16] In 2007, an effort to create a treaty that would act as a constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon was created to reform the existing treaties that currently govern the EU. [17] This Reform Treaty has been ratified by 26 members of the EU, but needs the Czech Republic in order for it to go into effect. [18]

The EU Government is a unique mix of legislative, executive and judicial power. [19] The five institutions that currently exercise the most power and influence on the EU are the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, the European Council the European Parliament (EP) and the European Court of Justice. [20] The European Commission is the executive branch with 27 members, one from each country. [21] The current President of the Commission is Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. [22] The Commission has the formal right to initiate policies but only initiates about 10-20% proposals in practice. [23] The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament make up the legislative branch, but the EP is the main decision-making body. [24]  The EP stretches its power to oversee the Commission and is not shy about using its power of persuasion in the approval process. [25] The judicial branch is comprised of the Justice of the European Communities that ensures uniform interpretation of treaties throughout the EU. [26] They also resolve constitutional issues among EU institutions. [27]  There is a lot of competition and rivalry between the institutions, but important policies will not get passed without some measure of consensus between them. [28]

III. How the European Union Government will Change if the Lisbon Treaty is Ratified

The Lisbon Treaty will reform many parts of the EU government. [29]  The European Commission would cap its size. A Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy would be established and shared with the Council of Ministers. [30] The European Council would become an official institution and the presidency would become permanent. [31]  The European Parliament would be affected because there would be extension of co-decision procedure and the power to elect a President of the Commission. [32] The European Court of Justice would change its name to the “Court of Justice of the European Union” and specialized courts would be attached. [33] 

European leaders seem to like this reform because it would give them a louder voice on external relations. [34]  The Lisbon Treaty would foster EU-member freedom, security and prosperity along with being able to tackle the challenges of climate change, sustainable development, economic competitiveness and terrorism. [35] The Treaty would create one legal personality for the EU to use in international agreements in order for the EU to speak with one voice. [36] EU leaders claim that they will use the Treaty to enhance democracy and increase humanitarian aid. [37] A new EU diplomatic corps would be established to increase coherence of the national capitals to provide this humanitarian aid and put policies into practice. [38] The Treaty also calls for the Union and Member states to act jointly if they are a victim of a terrorist attack. [39] Article 28a of the Treaty establishes the legal basis to create a European military, “for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter.” [40] 

IV. Effects on the United States if the Lisbon Treaty is Ratified

The general view of the Lisbon Treaty’s effects on the U.S. is split. [41] Americans either believe European unity is a positive occurrence for the United States to further a more globalized world, or the Treaty will only serve to limit the U.S.’s freedom for global action, particularly in the military arena. [42]  It would be an enormous detriment to the United States if the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) were to set up to compete with NATO, rather than compliment it. [43] President Obama likes the idea of having only “one number to call,” even though the EU President will still need unanimous backing from the EU national capitals before making decisions about foreign policies or defense. [44] Because of this unanimous backing required by the Treaty, the position seems to be poorly endowed with institutional powers. [45] If Tony Blair is appointed to the position, he would probably be more favorable to the U.S. when making policy decisions and pose less of a threat to the U.S.’s position on the global stage than other candidates. [46]

V. Conclusion

While it is in the European Union’s interest to unify itself with this Reform Treaty, the United States’ power is sure to be lessened if a more unified Europe becomes of equal or more power on the global stage.   It would be in the U.S.’s best interest to partner up with the newly reformed EU government to ensure unfavorable external trade policies are not created, nor a military structure that competes with U.S. military initiatives.  The EU president may also play a role in the Reform Treaty’s affects on the U.S., but only time will tell how much power that political position will have.  The United States can only hope that the new EU government will be a supportive partner in what they consider to be important global issues. 

[1]Mail Foreign Service, Czech President Nearly Ready to Sign Lisbon Treaty as his Opt-out Conditions are Met, Mail Online, Oct. 23, 2009, available at
[2] Soeren Kern, The EU Lisbon Treaty and Transatlantic Relations, World Politics Review, Oct. 16, 2009, available at
[3] The Lisbon Treaty, (last visited Oct. 29, 2009).
[4] Q&A: The Lisbon Treaty, BBC News, Oct. 23, 2009, available at
[5] Soeren Kern, Lisbon Treaty: Europe’s Slow-Moving Coup d’État, Brussels Journal, Oct. 10, 2009, available at
[6] Patrick Goodenough, Key European Union Treaty Faces Big Test,, Sep. 28, 2009, available at
[7] Kristin Archick, Cong. Reseach Serv. Report for Congress, Order Code RS21618, The European Union’s Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty, at CRS-6 (updated July 3, 2008).
[8] Nile Gardiner, The Great Irish Surrender, National Review Online, Oct. 5, 2009, available at
[9] Archick, supra note 7.
[10] Stephen Castle, After Vote, Debate Shifts to New European Leader, N.Y. Times, Oct. 4, 2009, available at
[11] Kern, supra note 5.
[12] Elizabeth Bomberg, John Peterson, and Alexander Stubb, The European Union: How Does it Work? 4 (2d ed., Oxford University Press 2008).
[13] Croatia Nears EU Entry, Turkey Must Do More, Times of Malta, Oct. 15, 2009, available at
[14] Bomberg, Peterson, & Stubb, supra note 12, at 7.
[15] Id.
[16] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: European Union, Central Intelligence Agency, Oct 8, 2009, available at
[17] The Lisbon Treaty, supra note 3.
[18] Daily Mail Reporter, Too late To Stop Lisbon Treaty, Concedes Last EU Leader Left to Sign, Mail Online, Oct. 17, 2009, available at
[19] Bomberg, Peterson, & Stubb, supra note 12, at 45.
[20] Id. at 46.
[21] Central Intelligence Agency, supra note 16.
[22] President Barroso, (last visited Oct. 25, 2009). 
[23] Bomberg, Peterson, & Stubb, supra note 12, at 51.
[24] Central Intelligence Agency, supra note 16.
[25] Bomberg, Peterson, & Stubb, supra note 12, at 59.
[26] Central Intelligence Agency, supra note 16.
[27] Id.
[28] Bomberg, Peterson, & Stubb, supra note 12, at 69.
[29] EU Facts, European Constitution: Lisbon Treaty, (last visited Oct. 25, 2009).
[30] Bomberg, Peterson, & Stubb, supra note 12, at 48.
[31] Id. at 49.
[32] Id.
[33] Id.
[34] Europa, Treaty of Lisbon: Taking Europe into the 21st Century, (last visited Oct. 25, 2009).
[35] Id.
[36] Id.
[37] Id.
[38] Human Rights First, EU's Lucky Charm: Ireland Supports Lisbon Treaty - Now What?, (last visited November 1, 2009).
[39] Id.
[41] Kern, supra note 2.
[42] Id.
[44] Human Rights First, supra note 38.
[45] Stratfor Global Intelligence, EU and the Lisbon Treaty, Part 2: The Coming Institutional Changes, (last visited November 1, 2009).
[46] Francis Elliot, Appointing Blair as EU President Will Have Consequences’, Warns Hague, Times Online, Oct. 22, 2009, available at
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