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The strengthening of European democracy

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The strengthening of European democracy


The Treaty of Lisbon puts the citizen back at the heart of the European project and aims to strengthen their interest in the institutions and the achievements of the European Union (EU), which often appear too far-removed from their day-to-day concerns. One objective of the Treaty of Lisbon is to promote European democracy which offers citizens the opportunity to participate in the functioning and development of the EU.

Such an objective necessarily depends on better recognition of European citizenship in the founding Treaties of the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon also endeavours to simplify and clarify the functioning of the Union, in order to make it more understandable and therefore more accessible to citizens. Finally, the Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the representation and participation of the citizen in the European decision-making process. The creation of a citizens’ initiative is one of the main innovations.


The Treaty of Lisbon introduces a new article in which it fully recognises the political dimension ofEuropean citizenship . Article 10 of the Treaty on EU provides that citizens are directly represented by the European Parliament and that this representative democracy is one of the foundations of the EU. Such recognition does not give citizens new rights but it does have strong symbolic value.

Article 10 also establishes a principle of proximity meaning that decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizens by involving national and local administrations as effectively as possible, so as to bring the EU closer to its citizens.

Given the 2014 elections, the first since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the Commission intends to boost citizens' interest in the European elections. In a Recommendation (2013/142/EU) and a Communication (COM/2013/0126 final) published at the end of March 2013, the Commission invited national and European political parties to inform the electorate of their affiliation links and to publish, before the elections, the name of the candidate for President of the Commission they are supporting.


The EU has often dismissed the image of a body with a complex structure and procedures. The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the functioning of the EU in order to improve citizens’ understanding of it. The vast numbers of legislative procedures are now giving way to the ordinary legislative procedure (formerly known as the codecision procedure) and special legislative procedures detailed on a case by case basis. Similarly, the old pillar structure has been abolished in favour of a clear and precise division of competences within the EU.

The Treaty of Lisbon also improves the transparency of work within the EU, extends to the Council the principle of public conduct of proceedings, which is already applied within the European Parliament, and will result in better information for citizens about the content of legislative proceedings.


The Treaty of Lisbon greatly strengthens the powers of the European Parliament (see European Parliament). The most significant changes include:

  • the strengthening of legislative power: the ordinary legislative procedure, in which the Parliament has the same powers as the Council, is extended to new policy areas;
  • a greater role at international level: the Parliament shall approve international agreements in the fields covered by the ordinary legislative procedure;
  • the strengthening of budgetary power: the Parliament is henceforth placed on an equal footing with the Council in the procedure for adopting the EU’s annual budget.

The Treaty of Lisbon also enhances the role of national parliaments (see national parliaments) which must henceforth ensure the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. In this respect, they are able to intervene in the ordinary legislative procedure and have a right of referral to the Court of Justice of the EU.


The Treaty of Lisbon recognises, for the first time, the existence of a European civil society, with which the EU institutions will engage in an open and transparent dialogue, on a regular basis (article 11, paragraph 1 and 2).

But above all it introduces the right to citizens' initiatives (Article 11 paragraph 3) thanks to which European nationals may invite the Commission to submit a proposal on matters where they consider that a legal act of the Union is required. This provision expresses the EU’s wish to directly involve its citizens in the taking of decisions on issues that concern them.

Such a right is subject to several conditions:

  • The initiative must obtain at least one million signatures coming from at least a quarter of all Member States;
  • Before beginning to collect declarations of support for a citizens' initiative proposal, the organisers must register it with the Commission which will check that the proposal does not fall outside of the remit of the Commission and that it is not against the values of the Union;
  • The time frame to collect declarations of support, on paper or through an online system, is 12 months from the date on which the proposal is registered.

The European Commission remains free to act, or not to act, on the initiative proposed by European citizens. If the initiative gives rise to a legislative proposal, the act will then be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure or a special legislative procedure.


Regulation (EU) No 211/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 2011 on the citizens’ initiative [Official Journal L 65 of 11.3.2011]. Amended by Delegated Regulation (EU) No 268/2012 [Official Journal L 89 of 27.3.2012], Regulation (EU) No 517/2013 [Official Journal L 158 of 10.6.2013] and Delegated Regulation (EU) No 887/2013 [Official Journal L 247 of 18.9.2013].

2013/142/EU: Commission Recommendation of 12 March 2013 on enhancing the democratic and efficient conduct of the elections to the European Parliament [Official Journal L 79 of 21.3.2013].

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Preparing for the 2014 European elections: further enhancing their democratic and efficient conduct (COM(2013)0126 final) [Not published in the Official Journal].

Last updated: 05.02.2014