Author(s): Laurent Pech
Paper number and date: WP 11-5, December 2011
Abstract: This paper offers a critical overview of the principal institutional changes contained in the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon (TL) and evaluates their present and potential impact on the functioning of the Union’s main institutions as well as on the inter-institutional balance of powers. It is argued that the TL does not mark a radical departure as it does not introduce a single revolutionary reform as regards the EU institutions responsible for making policy and adopting legislative measures. It does, however, codify the tendances lourdes of institutional change since the entry into force of the TEU: It further strengthens the legislative, budgetary and supervisory roles of the Parliament and in particular firmly establishes it, jointly with the Council, as a co-legislator; it also makes clear that the Council should continue to be viewed as the main (intergovernmental) decision-making body that acts on the basis of the political directions and priorities set by the (also intergovernmental) European Council, which is finally formally recognized as an institution of the EU. It is further submitted that the fact that the TL, for the most part, consolidates previous institutional trends, largely by means of ‘recipes’ introduced at earlier stages should not come as a surprise. At the risk of oversimplification, this paper defends the view that the unanimity requirement along with other constraining factors and the existence of contrasting forces explain why no drastic alterations were made to the composition, mode of appointment or the role and powers of the main EU institutions and why the most obvious institutional novelties such as the establishment of a new post of President of the European Council, from a purely formal point of view at least, constitutes a minor institutional change. Indeed, the TL may be said to further prove the resilience of the original, highly consensual and complex system of government set up under the EC Treaty. The TL also confirms the continuing influence of the contrasting forces mentioned above, the conflicting nature of which would appear to explain both the content and overall modest nature of the principal institutional changes introduced by the TL. Finally, this paper will seek to show that those modest changes nevertheless ‘succeed’ in further complicating the EU’s institutional architecture, in particular by multiplying the number of senior positions, and in increasing the potentiality for inter-institutional conflicts by simultaneously solidifying the authority of the European Council, in the name of a more effective and coherent Union, and of the European Parliament, in the name of a more democratic Union.
Keywords: European Union, Lisbon Treaty, Institutions, Institutional Reform, Democracy, Effectiveness