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Every Woman's Guide to Lisbon

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Olive Braiden with Dublin Lord Mayor Emer Costello and Nell McCafferty The Lisbon Treaty is the next step in Ireland’s 36 year membership of the European Union. It does not change Ireland’s relationship with the European Union. It merges together all of the other EU treaties that we have already voted on. It also makes some changes to the way the European Union is run, to make it more democratic and better able to make decisions. Finally, the Lisbon Treaty puts citizens’ rights – from women’s rights to workers’ rights to social rights – at the heart of the EU.

A Yes vote is an important step forward for the European Union as a whole, and for Irish citizens who belong to it.

The Women for Europe team has created the following guide to help you to understand the Treaty, what it says and how it will affect your life.

Click here to download the full PDF version.
(75KB PDF)

What is the purpose of the Lisbon Treaty

The Lisbon Treaty is a ‘reform treaty’ intended to improve the efficiency of the European Union’s institutions and make them more democratic.  It also introduces the Charter of Fundamental Rights into EU law, bringing the economic and social elements of the EU closer together, and strengthening European citizens’ rights.

How will The Lisbon Treaty change how the EU Works?

The Lisbon Treaty aims to make the European Union work better.  The EU institutions and its decision-making processes were designed for a Union of 15 member states.  Now there are 27 member states, and the way things work needs to be adapted to reflect that.

The changes would mean the appointment of an EU President, who would be the external face of the EU.  The voting system would change, and areas where voting happens by majority agreement would increase.  These changes favour smaller member states like Ireland.  The role of the directly European Parliament would be strengthened, as would national parliaments, and citizens could come together to propose new laws.

Will Ireland lose a commissioner?

No.  If the Lisbon Treaty is passed, all member states will have the power to send a Commissioner to Brussels.  This was decided after Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008.

Does The Lisbon Treaty give the EU new powers over what happens in Ireland?

No. The EU can only make laws in areas where we have allowed it to.  The Lisbon Treaty does mean that some new policy areas will be decided by a majority voting system, but these are areas that we have already agreed can be negotiated at EU level.

What is the charter of fundamental rights?

The Charter of Fundamental Rights sets out the civil, political, social and economic rights recognised by the EU.  It is part of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights deals with rights relating to:
•    human dignity, such as a ban on human cloning
•    freedom, such as the right to privacy, and the right to education
•    equality, not only between women and men, but also for older people, children and people of different faiths
•    solidarity, as it relates to workers’ rights, and also social solidarity in the form of public services like health and welfare
•    citizens’ democratic rights in the European Union
•    justice, such as the right to a fair trial.

If the Lisbon Treaty is passed, future EU laws will have to respect the citizens’ rights contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Does The Lisbon Treaty affect Ireland's Corporation Tax?

No. The European Union has no power to change tax rates in Ireland, and the Lisbon Treaty does not change this.

Will The Lisbon Treaty affect public services?

No. The Lisbon Treaty reaffirms that it is up to each country to decide how they provide public services. It also creates a legal basis for the special protection of public services that are not suitable for privatisation and competition, such as education, social welfare or policing. This strengthens the unique role of public services in our economy, and in other EU member states.

What does the Treaty mean for workers rights?

The Lisbon Treaty strengthens workers’ rights through the Charter of Fundamental Rights.  For example, the Charter includes:

  • the right to paid maternity leave
  • the right of workers to information and consultation in their place of work
  • the right to collective bargaining and action
  • protection against unfair dismissal, with particular reference to mothers
  • the right to fair and just working conditions and
  • a ban on the exploitation of younger workers.

Concerns about working conditions and workers’ rights can be addressed by fixing Irish law so that workers’ rights are properly protected.  We can do that now – we don’t have to wait for the Lisbon Treaty.

Will The Lisbon Treaty give more control over defence and foreign affairs to the EU?

EU Member States have never given the EU power to make laws on defence and foreign affairs, and the Lisbon Treaty does not change this.

In other words, the Lisbon Treaty does not change the fact that the EU is not allowed to:

  • conscript Irish soldiers into a war;
  • force Ireland to take part in military action;
  • force Ireland to pay for any venture to which it has objected;
  • commit Ireland to any level of military spending;
  • enforce sanctions in the area of military spending

However, one important change introduced by the Lisbon Treaty is the creation of a High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.  This is like a Foreign Affairs Minister for the European Union.  However, she or he will only be able to speak and act on policy that is already agreed by the Member States.

Does The Lisbon Treaty affect Ireland's neutrality?

The Lisbon Treaty does not affect Ireland’s neutrality.  Ireland is one of six neutral countries in the EU.  The other five have already ratified the Lisbon Treaty.  

Ireland has a “triple lock” rule to protect against the possibility of the country's involvement in war.  This means that no Irish soldier can participate in any EU mission without:

1.  A United Nations mandate
2.  Government approval
3.  Oireachtas approval

However, the Lisbon Treaty does make it easier for Member States which choose to cooperate with each other – for example, on humanitarian missions abroad – to do so.  
The Treaty also says that Member States would act in solidarity with one another if one of them was the victim of a terrorist attack or a humanitarian disaster, like a flood or an earthquake.  However, even in cases like these, the “triple lock” rule would still apply.

How does the Lisbon Treaty affect how we deal with crime and justice?

Within the EU, the free movement of criminals should be countered by the free movement of criminal justice.  The Lisbon Treaty allows Member States to cooperate more closely on cross-border crime, such as:

  • sex trafficking
  • child pornography
  • money laundering
  • computer crime
  • terrorism
  • drug smuggling
  • and organised crime.

It also allows for the development of closer cooperation on matters that affect all Member States, like immigration and asylum procedures.

Ireland has the option of ‘opting out’ from new legislation arising from this closer cooperation on police and justice.  However, it has also pledged to take part in EU policy in this area “to the maximum extent it deems possible.”

How does the Lisbon Treaty affect immigration?

The Lisbon Treaty does enable Member States to develop a Common Immigration Policy, if they choose to do so.  Such a policy would define the rules and conditions of immigration from countries outside the EU.  It would also combat people trafficking and illegal immigration.  The Lisbon Treaty also says that people applying for asylum to any EU Member State should reasonably expect to be treated the same way.

The Irish government has the option of ‘opting out’ from closer integration of immigration policy.

The Lisbon Treaty will not change the rights EU citizens already have to move freely throughout the EU; to work and study anywhere in the EU; and to be granted the same rights and protections as the citizens of the Member State they are living or travelling in.

Does the Lisbon Treaty affect education in Ireland?

No. Ireland’s ability to provide universal education is not compromised by the Lisbon Treaty. The Charter of Fundamental Rights reaffirms the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious beliefs.

Does the Lisbon Treaty mean abortion will be introduced in Ireland?

No. The Lisbon Treaty and Charter of Fundamental Rights do not affect the right to life in the Irish Constitution.  This fact was reconfirmed in June 2009 by all 26 other countries in the EU.

Does the Lisbon Treaty affect irish Agriculture?

The Lisbon Treaty is positive for agriculture because it makes the directly elected European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (made up of Ministers of Agriculture from each member state) equal partners in deciding agriculture policy for the first time.  This will make decisions relating to agriculture more transparent and more democratic, particularly when it comes to the important issue of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.