Q&A: The Lisbon treaty

When will the treaty come into force?

Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, signed the treaty on Tuesday. Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, says it will come into effect on December 1.

Mr Klaus dislikes the treaty. Why did he sign it?

Because other EU leaders yielded to his demand for a Czech exemption from the treaty’s charter of fundamental rights. He asserted that the Czech Republic needed the opt-out to defend itself against potential property claims from ethnic Germans expelled from former Czechoslovakia after 1945. EU legal experts said the charter provided no basis for such claims.

Poland and the UK also have exemptions from the charter. How important are the three opt-outs?

First, they mean EU courts cannot impose their interpretations of the charter in the Czech Republic, Poland and the UK. Poland, for example, cannot be forced to change its strict laws on abortion and same-sex marriage. The UK cannot be forced to change its laws on labour rights. Second, the ease with which Mr Klaus secured the Czech opt-out – less than a month after he demanded it – may tempt a future UK Conservative government to think it can win concessions from its EU partners quickly and at little cost.

What would the Conservatives want?

They now rule out an attempt at destroying the Lisbon treaty by means of a referendum in which the British people, it is widely assumed, would vote No. But the Conservatives would seek in other ways to limit the treaty’s impact.


They do not want a globally well-connected politician as the EU’s first full-time president, a post created by Lisbon. They would like the job to go to as faceless a person as possible. This, just as much as their animosity towards him as a former Labour leader, explains why they oppose Tony Blair’s bid for the post.

Would a Conservative government call any kind of EU-related referendum?

It is possible. If they assume power next year, they could call a referendum on “repatriating” to Britain policy areas, such as social affairs and employment, which have gravitated to EU level. Or they could pledge to hold a referendum on any future EU treaty. Both ideas are circulating.

How would the rest of Europe react?

Mildly, if any future treaty were made subject to a referendum. After the eight-year Lisbon saga, there is next to no appetite in Europe for more treaty reform.

What would other EU countries do?They could point to the Lisbon treaty’s “exit clause”, under which a member state is for the first time free to negotiate its withdrawal from the EU. It seems an extreme solution to the UK’s Europe problem, but it is an option some politicians on the Continent take seriously.

And some Tories, too?

We shall see.

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