Why no one is celebrating 10 years of the Lisbon Treaty

The Lisbon debacle reminds us of how fundamentally anti-democratic the EU is.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Staff writer


The EU marked a significant anniversary on Sunday. But apart from a small private ceremony of EU officials – coinciding with the official coronation of Ursula von der Leyen and her new team of commissioners – few people noticed, let alone celebrated. There were no street parties or champagne corks popped. There was barely even any press coverage.

This was the 10-year anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty – the treaty that gave force to the EU as it exists today. You might think this would be an occasion for misty-eyed, flag-waving Remoaners to commemorate. But the circumstances that led to Lisbon are an embarrassment to Europhiles – or certainly should be. The period that led to Lisbon is a clear and unavoidable reminder of the EU’s fundamentally anti-democratic nature.

The Lisbon Treaty began life as the European Constitution. It set out to consolidate Brussels’ power. Among many things, it would establish a permanent EU Council presidency and a ‘legal personality’ for the EU. It would also confer more powers to the EU on foreign policy. Ten member-state governments announced that they would hold referendums to ratify the constitution. In the end, only four were held. In 2005, the constitution was decisively rejected in France by 55 per cent of voters and then in the Netherlands by 62 per cent of voters.

That ought to have been the end of the road for the constitution. The public of one of the EU’s major powers had called a halt to further EU integration. But even before France held its referendum, the consequences of a No vote were made clear. Jean-Claude Juncker – currently the outgoing head of the EU Commission, but head of the EU Council at the time – made clear to voters that their views were irrelevant to the EU: ‘If it’s a Yes, we will say “on we go”, and if it’s a No we will say “we continue”.’ After the French result came in, Juncker pretended that the outcome was somehow unclear: ‘I am still very much in doubt when I look at this very mixed response in France.’

Instead of parking the planned changes, the European Council decided to have a two-year ‘period of reflection’. In those two years, it set about repackaging the rejected constitution as the Lisbon Treaty.

Few even tried to hide the ruse. German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to the European Parliament: ‘The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact.’ Former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was president of the committee drafting the constitution, concurred with this assessment: ‘The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments.’

There were, however, some subtle changes which, importantly for the EU elites, could ‘head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary’, wrote Giscard d’Estaing. Marvelling at the new text, he noted how ‘the Brussels institutions have also cleverly reclaimed the process from the – to them – unwelcome intrusion of parliamentarians and politicians… The [EU] institutions have re-imposed their language and their procedures – taking us even further away from ordinary citizens.’

In the UK, the Labour government had promised a referendum on the EU Constitution in its 2005 manifesto. A planned vote was cancelled after the French and Dutch ‘No’ votes. When the Lisbon Treaty came around, the government refused to allow the public a say on it, even though it was undeniably the same as the constitution. Gordon Brown was clearly embarrassed by the debacle. He first sent his foreign secretary, David Miliband, to sign it in his place so that he wouldn’t be photographed signing it with the 26 other European leaders. He eventually turned up three hours later to sign it.

Ireland was the only member state to hold a referendum on the treaty – and only then because its constitution obliges it to. Seven years earlier in 2001, Ireland held a vote on the EU’s Nice Treaty. The public rejected it by 53 per cent, and a year later the referendum was held a second time. In 2008, the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty. When the inevitable second referendum came around a year later, an obscure left-wing British backbencher went to Ireland to campaign against the treaty. Jeremy Corbyn warned that the EU was creating a ‘European empire’ and a ‘military Frankenstein’. Corbyn joked that No campaigners should not ‘scrap your posters because you’re gonna need them for a third referendum’. Now, of course, Corbyn’s Labour and its Europhile activists are campaigning to overturn the vote for Brexit with a second referendum.

France, Ireland and the Netherlands had rejected EU integration but it was to happen anyway. It is also worth remembering that they rejected the EU when it was enjoying relatively good times. In recent years the EU has faced multiple major crises of its own making, from Brexit and the rise of populism to the Euro crisis and the migrant crisis. But the people of Europe were saying ‘No’ to the EU in vast numbers even before any of this.

The only positive of the Lisbon Treaty is a clause of around 260 words that was never intended to be used: Article 50, which for the first time established the right of EU member states to leave. Now that really will be worth celebrating – if it’s ever allowed to happen.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Pragmatix Pragmatix

4th December 2019 at 7:02 pm


Well, if such includes gnashing of teeth and tearing raiment and wearing sackcloth and ashes, then count me in!

The Lisbon Treaty was the single most heinous act of idiot politicians in Western history. As well as a total abuse of the delegated authority of moronic devious mendacious politicians ever experienced.

At the stroke of a pen, member states’ sovereignty was abolished and vested in the monolithic, out-of-control, non-elected, unaccountable EU honchos.

Elitist collective insanity.

Plus, of course, utter demonstrated contempt for voters and the individual.

Jim Lawrie

4th December 2019 at 11:28 am

A good point Mr Myers about Corbyn venturing overseas to remove the splinter from his neighbour’s eye while blinded to the plank in his. To his credit, he was upholding the great leftist tradition of telling the Irish what to do. Then the hand wringing anguish and eye rolling when they pay no heed. They are like that when a Brit comes a preaching. It’s a waste of time. They’ll never learn.

Richard Woods

4th December 2019 at 11:04 am

“10-year anniversary”: I’m surprised at you, Mr Myers; that a writer of your calibre should commit such as nasty solecism.
I think you mean “Tenth anniversary”.

Jim Lawrie

4th December 2019 at 11:41 am

And he missed the point that 3yrs ago Britain got the seven year itch. We’re still scratching at it.

Perverted Lesbian

4th December 2019 at 10:27 am

A federal Europe by stealth
Yanis Vourakis on Youtube – The Euro has never been more problematic he quotes
Varoufakis quotes a source as telling him that Mitterand once said in private that the Euro was a necessary evil on the path to federalisation.

Mitterrand was quoted as saying: “I do not have the authority to bring about a Federation but I can bring about, with Helmut (Kohl, the German Chancellor), a monetary union, that is going to create a massive crisis and then the people who will succeed us will have no alternative than to create a Federation.”

david rawson

4th December 2019 at 9:32 am

I can’t see us ever leaving

Puddy Cat

4th December 2019 at 9:12 am

As Nish Kumar, a person that should be embarrassed by his misinterpretation of what constitutes humour, found out recently, the EU is not a comedy it’s a tragedy. That Metropolitan crowd-sourced opinion thankfully doesn’t travel well. This is one pretend radical parroting what he believed to be a crowd pleaser only to find that he’s a decade late and a dollar short.


4th December 2019 at 11:34 am

I went to see a PiL gig in Sheffield, 7th June 2016. John Lydon made similar disparaging remarks about those advocating Brexit to those Nish Kumar made. There was little cheer in response. To his credit, he later (well after the referendum result) came out in favour of Brexit. Celebrities live in a bubble most of the time.

Jim Lawrie

4th December 2019 at 11:39 am

A get together to laugh and condescend at people only works when all of those present are as stuck up as you are and cash on the table eager to have their own prejudices played to.
I saw Bernard Manning in Scotland reducing us to tears of laughter as he comprehensively slagged off everything about us. The key was he was only joking and there was not a hint of condescension about him.
When he had finished his act, he popped back on stage and told us ” by the way, I meant every fooking word of that”, and made us laugh even more, because he couldn’t keep a straight face himself for that line.


4th December 2019 at 11:57 am

? What are you trying to say, Jim? John Lydon was there to play music not make political comment so the analogy with Bernard Manning is not relevant. John was deadly serious about his views (thinking anyone supporting Brexit is a little Englander and a racist bigot). He likes to appeal to WC audiences and tells them what he thinks they want to hear. He got it badly wrong on this topic. If there was any condescension, it was him. Try being a little more positive in your replies in future.

Jim Lawrie

4th December 2019 at 12:18 pm

If you look at the time stamp and indentation on my post you can see it is in response to Puddy Cat, not the post about Lydon which came after mine. A few lines of code would insert the poster and post to whom we are replying.

I do not know what a “WC audience is”? A serendipitous, Freuidan slip?

I stand by my comment. Kumar was there as a comedian but his act is built on prejudice and therefore far from universal. Manning was a proper comedian who took aim at all our foibles, prejudices and vanities.

Stephen J

4th December 2019 at 9:07 am

I like that the only positive thing about the Lisbon Treaty is a formalised method of exiting the EU.

Of course it takes special talent to respond to the biggest democratic decision ever made in Britain to contrive a set of circumstances where we would be using that method not to leave but to negotiate a new treaty that did not include this mechanism for leaving.

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