EU glossary: Jargon L-R


Lisbon Agenda A programme of reforms aimed at making the EU economy more competitive internationally. It was agreed at the European Council in March 2000, where the EU set itself the goal of becoming by 2010 "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion". Areas covered include social welfare reforms, education and IT projects. But the economic crisis derailed the plans and the EU is now working on a new strategy for the next decade.

Lisbon Treaty Like the European constitution which it replaced, the Lisbon Treaty is often described as an attempt to streamline EU institutions to make the enlarged bloc of 27 states function better. But opponents see it as part of a federalist agenda that threatens national sovereignty.

The constitution was thrown out by French and Dutch voters in 2005. The Lisbon Treaty, too, was rejected by Irish voters in 2008. However, the Republic of Ireland backed the treaty in a new referendum in October 2009. The Czech Republic was the last EU member state to ratify Lisbon, and the treaty took effect on 1 December 2009.

Q&A: The Lisbon Treaty


Maastricht criteria The 1991 Maastricht Treaty - officially known as the Treaty of the European Union - established five criteria that determine whether an EU country is ready to adopt the euro. They are:

  1. Price stability. The inflation rate should be no more than 1.5 percentage points above the rate for the three EU countries with the lowest inflation over the previous year.
  2. Budget deficit. This must generally be below 3% of gross domestic product (GDP).
  3. Debt. The national debt should not exceed 60% of GDP, but a country with a higher level of debt can still adopt the euro provided its debt level is falling steadily.
  4. Interest rates. The long-term rate should be no more than two percentage points above the rate in the three EU countries with the lowest inflation over the previous year.
  5. Exchange rate stability. The national currency's exchange rate should have stayed within certain pre-set margins of fluctuation for two years.


Neighbourhood Policy This was developed in the context of the EU's 2004 enlargement. It seeks to promote shared values with the EU's neighbours, many of them in the former Soviet Union, such as democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance and a market economy.

Nice Treaty Signed in 2001, the Nice Treaty changed voting weights and procedures to take account of the anticipated enlargement of the EU. National governments lost their veto in a number of areas which were brought under qualified majority voting (QMV). The treaty also boosted the number of Euro MPs.

The treaty was widely regarded as a temporary fix. Further debate led to the EU constitution and the Lisbon Treaty.


Olaf Olaf is the EU's anti-fraud office, set up in 1998. It is responsible for investigating fraud that harms the EU budget. The European Commission created Olaf - yet it insists that Olaf has operational independence.

Ombudsman The office of EU Ombudsman was established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. His role is to deal with EU citizens' complaints of maladministration by EU institutions. He is elected by the European Parliament for a five-year term, which can be renewed. The current ombudsman is Nikiforos Diamandouros.


Petersberg tasks The Petersberg tasks defined by the Western European Union (WEU) at the Hotel Petersberg in Germany in 1992, are tasks now included in the remit of the European security and defence policy (ESDP). They encompass humanitarian and rescue tasks; peacekeeping; and tasks of combat forces in crisis management.

The EU took over the role of the WEU after the Cologne European Council in 1999.

Petition Any EU citizen with a grievance against an EU institution can complain to, or petition, the European Parliament. The parliament's committee on petitions considers whether the complaint is admissible and what course of action to take. It can refer the matter to the ombudsman.

Pillars of the EU The Maastricht Treaty set up the EU's structure - an interconnecting pillar system.

The first pillar is the "Community domain", covering most of the common policies, where decisions involve the Commission, Parliament and the Council.

The second pillar is the common foreign and security policy, where decisions are taken by the Council alone and have to be unanimous.

The third pillar is "police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters", where again it is the Council that decides.

The Lisbon Treaty has changed the pillar system, by creating the new post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and giving the European Parliament a say in the area of justice and home affairs.

President The EU has a number of presidents. There are presidents of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. The president of the Commission is nominated by the European Council, voting by qualified majority, and approved or rejected by the European Parliament.

The Council presidency is held by a country for six months at a time, by rotation. But in future, under the Lisbon Treaty, EU summits will be chaired by the new European Council president - Herman Van Rompuy. His two-and-a-half-year term is renewable once.

The president of the Parliament is elected by the parliament for a two-and-a-half-year term, usually alternating between a Socialist and a member of the centrist European People's Party.


QMV The Council of Ministers can take a decision in three ways: by a simple majority vote; by a qualified majority vote (QMV); unanimously.

The voting system used depends on the subject. The Council has to agree unanimously in order to amend the Treaties, to launch new common policies or to allow a new country to join.

In most other cases, QMV is used, in which the Council adopts a decision if a specified minimum number of votes is cast in its favour.

The number of votes allocated to each EU country roughly reflects the size of its population.

Populous countries like Germany, France, Italy and the UK each have 29 votes. Countries with a smaller populations like Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovenia only have four votes.

For a decision to pass, it has to have a minimum of 255 votes out of 345. In addition, a few other factors have to be met:

A majority of member states (in some cases two-thirds) must approve the decision.

The votes cast in favour must represent at least 62% of the EU's total population.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, QMV will be extended to 40 policy areas, including asylum, immigration, police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

The treaty establishes a double majority rule for Council decisions. That means 55% of member states and 65% of the EU's population will need to support a piece of EU legislation for it to pass by qualified majority. However, this system will only be adopted in 2014, with an extra transition period until 2017.


Rapid Reaction Force The EU agreed in December 1999 to create a European force of up to 60,000 troops, with supporting air and naval assets.

Since then 15 battlegroups of 1,500 soldiers have been created. Most of them are multinational. At any one time, two battlegroups are on standby to respond to an international crisis, within 5-10 days.

Reach The Reach system establishes a single regulatory framework for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals. The aim is to improve safety in the manufacture and use of chemicals.

It puts the burden of proof for chemical safety on the manufacturers and importers, rather than the authorities in a member state.

Q&A: Reach chemicals legislation

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