With or without Lisbon: continuous institutional change in the EU

WP 2 - Constitutional politics 


Amsterdam, 15-16 May 2009

This workshop is organised within RECON's WP 2 - The Constitutionalisation of the EU, the Europeanisation of National Constitutions, and Constitutionalism Compared. Read more on the overall research objectives of RECON.

Workshop programme


After the demise of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe and the rejection of the Lisbon Reform Treaty in the referendum in Ireland, the prospects for formal EU reform by Treaty revision look rather gloomy.  Even if the Lisbon Treaty will eventually be passed, new Treaty negotiations are unlikely to be anticipated for the first time in 25 years.

Still, it would be too quick to conclude that the EU’s institutional evolution has come to a standstill. Scholarly analysis has pointed out how also in the absence of formal Treaty change, EU institutions and the norms governing them have been subject to ‘informal change’. A classical case in point is the jurisprudence of the ECJ that on some rather momentous occasions rather sought to elaborate the spirit of the Treaties than to follow them by the letter. In more recent years, in particular the European Parliament but also some elements in the Council of Ministers have separately and in collaboration been remarkably active in developing new modes of operation where the Treaties remain silent.

This workshop is to reflect upon the potential of institutional change that has emerged in the shadow of the attempts to move to a new Treaty. It does so by focussing on three sets of institutions: the European Parliament, the role of national parliaments in the EU architecture, and the European and national courts. The focus on these three institutions is motivated by a particular interest in the role that normative ideas may play in driving and justifying informal institutional change. Here we think in the first place of normative ideas like the idea of ‘popular sovereignty’ in the case of parliaments and the idea of ‘basic rights’ in the case of courts, but one might also think of the idea of ‘national sovereignty’.

Among the questions to be pursued are thus: 

  • What institutional changes have taken place since the beginning of the Laeken process?And what potential for future changes has been opened up?
  • How do these changes relate to the proposals that have been part of the formal Treaty re-
    negotiations? Do they, for instance, anticipate them or rather respond to them? 
  • What causes the opportunities for institutional change to arise and to be successfully carried through? And to what extent are normative ideas essential in providing them with a normative and practical justification?
  • What do these findings bode for the prospects of future Treaty change or even a renewed attempt to constitutionalise the Union on the basis of popular engagement and consent?

For more information, please contact Ben Crum (co-leader WP 2)