The Lisbon Treaty, which reforms the way the European Union works, entered into force on 1 December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty introduces a number of changes - some major and some cosmetic. Here is a very brief outline of the major changes that may be of particular interest:
1. European Union
The Lisbon Treaty establishes the European Union as a legal entity and there is no longer a distinction between acts of the European Union and those of the European Communities. From now on there is just the European Union.
However, the original treaties remain in force and have only been amended (not replaced). The Treaty establishing the European Communities has now been renamed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Union is now the Treaty on European Union (TEU).
2. Competition Law / Antitrust
There is no change to the substance of the competition law provisions in the Treaty. Articles 81 and 82 EC have been renumbered and are now Articles 101 and 102 TFEU.
A new European Commissioner for Competition has been nominated. It is Joaquín Almunia of Spain who was the former European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.
The former Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes remains with the European Commission and takes on a portfolio dealing with digital technology. It is expected that she will deal with the controversial subject of reform of the intellectual property rules in particular copyright on the internet.
3. European Court
There are a number of changes to the European Court of Justice. The Court of First Instance has been renamed the "General Court". There is no change in its competence but applications will have to be addressed to the "General Court of the European Union".
The standard for bringing a challenge before the European Court against an EU legislative act has been amended. The Treaty appears to relax the requirement that an applicant establish "direct and individual concern" (a notoriously hard condition) when challenging regulatory acts.
4. New Competences
There are new competences in the following economic areas: energy, climate change, sport and intellectual property rights (amongst others).
5. Institutional Changes
In terms of institutional changes, there is now a permanent President of the European Council who represents the EU Member States and will chair the meetings of the heads of EU governments. In addition, the Lisbon Treaty creates a "high representative" for foreign affairs who will chair the meetings of the national ministers for foreign affairs and sit as a Vice-President in the European Commission.
The Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy became the first President of the European Council. Baroness Ashton (of the United Kingdom) was nominated as the High Representative.