Lisbon Treaty comes into effect

The Lisbon Treaty came into force today at the end of nearly eight years of controversy, debate and rebellion about the shape of the future European Union.

The Treaty began life as a “Constitution” – a revised, streamlined, set of rules to make the expanded EU of 27 countries run more smoothly.

But life has been anything but smooth since the process began.

The “Constitution” which was signed by EU leaders amid popping champagne corks, was derided by eurosceptics as a federalist blueprint eroding national sovereignty.

Britain was expected to resist it, but no-one predicted that two of the founding EU countries would reject it first.

France and the Netherlands did just that in referendums in 2005, throwing the EU into crisis.

After a “period of reflection”, Europe’s leaders re-named a watered-down version as a Treaty and signed it again – in Lisbon two years ago, to the sound of more popping champagne corks.

They shouldn’t have tempted fate: history repeated itself when Ireland threw out the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum in June 2008, only reversing the decision in a second public vote two months ago.

Even then, final treaty approval was delayed by the deeply-eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who was reluctant to add his signature to complete the 27-nation ratification process.

When he did so, on November 3, it marked the end of a tortuous process to make the EU “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient” and to bring it “closer to the people”.

But the protracted process and its setbacks have had the reverse effect, exacerbated by controversy surrounding the implementation of two key Lisbon Treaty provisions – the creation of a President and a High Representative.

The two appointees, Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and the UK’s Baroness Cathy Ashton, have been criticised as unknown, unelected and unlikely to make much of a mark on the world stage.

Meanwhile debate still rages about a Treaty which increases powers for the European Commission, European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, including in the area of justice and home affairs.

The right of national veto in EU decision making is removed in dozens of areas, although unanimity will still be required to pass EU laws on tax, foreign policy, defence and social security.

And national Parliaments gets increased powers of scrutiny over EU law-making.

The resulting Treaty is being marked by celebrations on the continent – not least in Lisbon, where European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will join the Swedish Prime Minister – in the EU presidency – and the new EU President of the Council Mr Van Rompuy for ceremonies including music, speeches and fireworks.

Mr Barroso said: “The Treaty of Lisbon puts citizens at the centre of the European project. I’m delighted that we now have the right institutions to act, and a period of stability, so that we can focus all our energy on delivering what matters to our citizens.”

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