Courtesy Reuters

New Treaty, New Influence?

Europe's Chance to Punch Its Weight

On December 1, 2009, after nearly a decade of acrimonious debate, the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force across the 27 member states of the European Union. The treaty reforms EU institutions, making the organization more accountable to voters and enhancing its ability to address European and global challenges. Over the long term, the treaty may make the EU a more coherent international actor, thereby significantly affecting non-EU countries, including the United States.

The Lisbon Treaty is the latest in a long line of EU reform efforts. It is the fifth amendment to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, the EU's predecessor. Following the Single European Act of 1986 -- which laid the foundations for Europe's single market, assuring for the first time the free flow of goods, capital, people, and services among the member states -- the EU reformed its institutions and decision-making process through the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, and the Nice Treaty of 2001. But with the cumulative effect of these amendments widely acknowledged to have complicated decision-making -- and with the organization planning to enlarge from 15 to 25 member states in 2004 -- EU leaders sought to replace the confusing patchwork of EU treaties with a single, overarching constitution. The resulting document, drafted by a constitutional convention in 2002-3, was signed by all EU heads of government in 2004 but was rejected the following year by French and Dutch voters, who feared that a European constitution would limit their countries' national voting rights, sovereignty, and access to EU funds.

In 2007, after a two-year "period of reflection," the EU heads of state agreed in Lisbon on a draft treaty that was nearly identical in substance to the constitution but -- in deference to public opinion in some member states -- dropped references to the trappings of statehood (such as an EU flag and an EU anthem) and sought to amend, rather than replace, earlier EU treaties. By November 2009, every EU member state had ratified the treaty.

European officials generally

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