The Treaty of Lisbon

The picture shows the logo of the Lisbon Treaty. This was signed by the EU member states in 2007 and ratified in 2009.
Closer to the citizens and more transparency: The Lisbon Reform Treaty has not replaced but updated previous treaties. © European Union

After the treaty intended to create a consolidated constitution for the European Union was not ratified, the existing EU treaties were amended and expanded. The institutional changes provided for in the original treaty were, however, carried over. This resulted in the Treaty of Lisbon, which also regulates the withdrawal of member states. The United Kingdom chose to withdraw from the EU on 31 January 2020.

In October 2004 the European Council signed the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, the goal of which was to create a constitution for Europe to replace the multitude of existing treaties and more clearly restructure the legal foundation of the EU. The aim was to make the EU more efficient in decision-making, more transparent, more democratic, and closer to citizens. But in May and June 2005 the Constitutional Treaty was rejected in popular referendums in France and the Netherlands.

Towards the new Reform Treaty

In June 2007 the heads of state and governments of the EU member states agreed in principle to replace the original Constitutional Treaty with a new EU Reform Treaty. The most important institutional innovations of the Constitutional Treaty were maintained so that the decision-making ability, efficiency, and proximity to the citizenry would be adequately guaranteed in a growing EU. On 13 December 2007, the EU member states signed the new treaty in Portugal, which became known as the Treaty of Lisbon. The treaty was to be ratified by all member states by 2009.

However, in the first vote on the treaty, in June 2008, Irish voters rejected it. Following concessions made by the European Council to Ireland, the Irish government called a new vote on 2 October 2009, in which the treaty was endorsed. After ratification of the treaty by Poland and lastly the Czech Republic, it came into force on 1 December 2009.

Reform of existing treaties instead of a constitution

The Treaty of Lisbon did not replace earlier treaties. Instead, it amended the treaties that form the constitutional basis of the EU, which were newly renamed the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The Treaty of Lisbon retained the most important aspects of the Constitutional Treaty. It reformed the EU's political system and abolished the existing three-pillar model, for example. Internal coordination mechanisms were developed, the veto powers of individual member states was curtailed, and additional powers were handed over to Parliament. The EU also acquired legal personality, so it can act as an independent institution in terms of its Common Foreign and Security Policy.

What the Treaty of Lisbon reforms

Proximity to citizens and democracy

  • The European Parliament, which represents the citizens of the EU, receives more co-decision rights. 
  • The European Citizens’ Initiative makes it possible for citizens who have gathered one million signatures from nationals of at least one-quarter of the EU member states to call directly on the EU Commission to make a legislative proposal.
  • Furthermore, the Charter of Fundamental Rights is declared legally binding.

Capacity to act and transparency

  • In the Council of the European Union, which comprises the responsible ministers from each member state, qualified majority voting applies. A proposal is adopted if at least 55% of all member states comprising at least 65% of the population approve. 
  • The European Council, comprised of the heads of state and government of the EU member states, gained the status of an independent EU institution. It is headed by a president who is elected for a two and a half year term and may be reelected once. 
  • The post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has been newly created to be the main coordinator of EU foreign policy. 
  • The High Representative is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS). The EEAS is composed of officials of the European Commission, the secretariat of the Council of the EU, and the national diplomatic services of member states. 
  • The purpose of this structure is to make EU foreign policy more coherent and consistent.

Simplification of structure

  • The three-pillar system of the EU has been merged into the EU. 
  • The EU has obtained a consolidated legal personality, which allows it to enter into contracts with third countries such as Switzerland.

Federalism and division of powers

  • The division of competences between the EU and its member states has been clarified and simplified. 
  • At the same time, the role of national parliaments in the EU’s legislative process has been strengthened.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was legally equated to the EU Treaties by the Treaty of Lisbon. It has since become binding for all member states in the application of EU law.


In 2009, the TEU introduced the possibility for member states to withdraw from the EU – contained in Article 50 of the Treaty.  On 23 June 2016, the majority of the United Kingdom electorate voted to leave the EU.  This decision was finalised on 31 January 2020. During the transition phase, the UK remained in the single European market until the end of 2020.