The rocky road to Lisbon

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The EU's 13-year path to the Lisbon Treaty, which will be subject to a referendum in Ireland on Thursday, has been anything but smooth.

10 June 2008

BRUSSELS - The European Union's 13-year path to the Lisbon Treaty, which will be subject to a referendum in Ireland on Thursday, has been anything but smooth.

Amsterdam: In 1995, as 10 former-Communist states plus Malta and Cyprus began the path towards EU accession, the bloc's then-15 members agreed that the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which created the EU, needed updating.

The result was the Treaty of Amsterdam, signed on 2 October 1997 and brought into force on 1 May 1999.

While it mainly dealt with other matters, the treaty made the first suggestions on how the bloc should function if it grew to 27 members, proposing capping the size of the EU's Commission and Parliament without saying how this should be done.

Nice: Given the Amsterdam Treaty's vagueness on enlargement, member states decided within nine months of its coming into force that a new treaty was needed to make the bloc work once it expanded.

On 11 December 2000, they therefore agreed the Nice treaty, which set out exactly the weight that each member state, new and old, would have in the commission, parliament and council of member states.

But even as they did so, they declared that once the treaty was done with, there should be "a deeper and wider debate about the future of the EU," heralding more changes to come.

That debate became suddenly urgent on 7 June 2001, when Irish voters rejected the Nice treaty in a referendum characterised by low turnout and a highly-motivated no campaign which made much play of the warning that the treaty would undermine Ireland's neutrality.

The Irish government therefore sought assurances from the EU that the treaty would not breach its neutrality before calling a second referendum, which returned a yes on 19 October 2002. The Nice treaty came into force on 1 February 2003.

Constitution: While the Nice treaty was still in limbo following the first Irish vote, EU leaders meeting in the royal palace of Laeken in Belgium on 15 December 2001, called for the creation of a "convention on the future of Europe" - and a new set of rules.

The goal was to make the EU "more democratic, more transparent and more efficient".

The result was the Constitutional Treaty, a 160,000-word document which EU leaders signed in Rome on 29 October 2004.

Seven months later, French and Dutch voters rejected the treaty in referenda variously interpreted as a protest against EU bureaucracy, enlargement, government weakness or globalisation. The double rejection ended all hopes of bringing the constitution into force.

Lisbon: After the shock referenda, EU leaders agreed on a "period of reflection" before they returned to the constitutional question.

In early 2007, they agreed to a slimmed-down version of the constitution, aimed at updating earlier treaties rather than replacing them entirely, but once again intended to make the EU more efficient at home and more effective abroad.

After two marathon summits in June and October, the leaders signed the treaty in Lisbon on 13 December. Its fate now lies in Irish voters' hands.

[dpa / Expatica]

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