After 8 years in the making, December 1st 2009 marked the date when the Lisbon Treaty (finally) came into force and with it the attempt to streamline the EU institutions and strengthen democracy within the Union. Some of the most important changes are:
• A politician chosen to be president of the European Council for two-and-a-half years, replacing the current system where countries take turns at being president for six months.
• A smaller European Commission, with fewer commissioners than there are member states, from 2014.
• A redistribution of voting weights between the member states, phased in between 2014 and 2017 - qualified majority voting based on a "double majority" of 55% of member states, accounting for 65% of the EU's population.
• New powers for the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice, for example in the field of justice and home affairs.
• Removal of national vetoes in a number of areas, including fighting climate change, energy security and emergency aid. Unanimity will still be required in the areas of tax, foreign policy, defense and social security.
While critics say that the Lisbon Treaty threatens national sovereignty the overall response has been positive and deemed a necessary step in the unification of Europe.
For more information on the Lisbon Treaty check out the Treaty web site on Europa.eu