A Linguistic Investigation of the Lisbon Treaty

AuthorDenise Milizia
PositionRicercatore di Lingua inglese e traduzione nell'Università degli studi di Bari Aldo Moro

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@1. The corpus

1. The Treaty of Lisbon, also known as the Reform Treaty, was designed to streamline the workings of the European Union. It amends both the Treaty on European Union (TEU, Maastricht 1992) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC, Rome 1957). In the process, the latter was renamed Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU), to include most provisions of the European Constitution. The two Treaties are not combined into one single document. A typical amendment in the Treaty of Lisbon reads:

Article 7 shall be amended as follows:

(a) throughout the Article, the word "assent" shall be replaced by "consent", the reference to breach "of principles mentioned in Article 6(1)" shall be replaced by a reference to breach "of the values referred to in Article 2" and the words "of this Treaty" shall be replaced by "of the Treaties".

In the present analysis the consolidated version of the whole Treaty has been taken into account: the two Treaties (counting, respectively, 12,358 words and 52,977 words, including the two preambles), the 37 protocols (41,101 words), the 2 annexes (747 words) and the 65 declarations (12,553 words), totalling approximately 120,000 words. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which, in the Treaty of Lisbon, is made legally binding, is not included in this corpus. A reference to the Charter appears in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union; it reads as follows:

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Article 6 (ex Article 6 TEU)

  1. The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, as adapted at Strasbourg, on 12 December 2007, which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties.

    The provisions of the Charter shall not extend in any way the competences of the Union as defined in the Treaties.

    The rights, freedoms and principles in the Charter shall be interpreted in accordance with the general provisions in Title VII of the Charter governing its interpretation and application and with due regard to the explanations referred to in the Charter, that set out the sources of those provisions.

  2. The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession shall not affect the Union's competences as defined in the Treaties.

  3. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union's law.

    Articolo 6 (ex articolo 6 del TUE)

  4. L'Unione riconosce i diritti, le libertà e i principi sanciti nella Carta dei diritti fondamentali dell'Unione europea del 7 dicembre 2000, adattata il 12 dicembre 2007 a Strasburgo, che ha lo stesso valore giuridico dei trattati.

    Le disposizioni della Carta non estendono in alcun modo le competenze dell'Unione definite nei trattati.

    I diritti, le libertà e i principi della Carta sono interpretati in conformità delle disposizioni generali del titolo VII della Carta che disciplinano la sua interpretazione e applicazione e tenendo in debito conto le spiegazioni cui si fa riferimento nella Carta, che indicano le fonti di tali disposizioni.

  5. L'Unione aderisce alla Convenzione europea per la salvaguardia dei diritti dell'uomo e delle libertà fondamentali. Tale adesione non modifica le competenze dell'Unione definite nei trattati.

  6. I diritti fondamentali, garantiti dalla Convenzione europea per la salvaguardia dei diritti dell'uomo e delle libertà fondamentali e risultanti dalle tradizioni costituzionali comuni agli Stati membri, fanno parte del diritto dell'Unione in quanto principi generali.

    The Italian version of the Lisbon Treaty appears to be slightly less verbose, counting 11,459 words and 48,996 words in the first and second part respectively, preambles included, 36,708 words in the protocols, 695 in the Annexes and 12,085 in the declarations. The whole Treaty totals approximately 111,000 tokens, and also the Italian version of the Charter of Fundamental Rights has not been included in the corpus for the present investigation.

    It is well known that stereotypically Italian tends to be considered as being slightly more 'verbose' than English1: the reason why the opposite is true here

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    is that the software (and the word counter in Microsoft Word) does not make any distinction between Unione and l'Unione or dell'Unione, which are all counted as one single word, whereas in English they are counted respectively as one, two and three words, i.e. Union, the Union and of the Union.

    Article 9, for example, counts 56 words in English and 48 in Italian:

    Article 9

    In all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies. Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.

    Articolo 9

    L'Unione rispetta, in tutte le sue attività, il principio dell'uguaglianza dei cittadini, che beneficiano di uguale attenzione da parte delle sue istituzioni, organi e organismi. È cittadino dell'Unione chiunque abbia la cittadinanza di uno Stato membro. La cittadinanza dell'Unione si aggiunge alla cittadinanza nazionale e non la sostituisce.

    The use of "shall" is certainly one of the main reasons why the English version totals more words: "the Council shall act", for example, counts as a four-word phrase in English and as a three-word phrase in Italian, "il Consiglio delibera", as can been seen in Article 31:

    Article 31 (ex Article 23 TEU) [...]

  7. The European Council may unanimously adopt a decision stipulating that the Council shall act by a qualified majority in cases other than those referred to in paragraph 2.


  8. For procedural questions, the Council shall act by a majority of its members.

    Articolo 31 (ex Articolo 23 TUE) [...]

  9. Il Consiglio europeo può adottare all'unanimità una decisione che preveda che il Consiglio delibera a maggioranza qualificata in casi diversi da quelli contemplati al paragrafo 2. [...]

  10. Per le questioni procedurali il Consiglio delibera alla maggioranza dei suoi membri.

    The Lisbon Treaty was signed on 13 December 2007 in Lisbon (as Portugal held the EU Council's Presidency at the time): the ratification process proved to be extremely arduous and it finally entered into force on 1 December 2009.

    @2. Words and keywords in the Lisbon Treaty

    2. The analysis starts with a frequency-ordered wordlist of individual words typical of legal English, or, rather, of individual words included in the Lisbon Treaty, in that the language of European discourse is certainly different from any other kind, full of Euro-jargon or Euro-speak, as it were.

    To yield word lists, concordance lines and keywords in the present investigation, the software I have relied on is WordSmith Tools 5.02.

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    Table 1 displays the top 60 words of the Treaty. A first glance at the table below shows already that it is a different kind of wordlist: in a general English list the first 50, sometimes 100 words, are all function words, whereas here the first word that stands out is "shall", followed by "article", "European", "Union", "member", "Council", "States", "Treaty", "Commission", "Court", "Parliament", and so forth.


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    Looking at the Lisbon Treaty wordlist and at a general English corpus, side by side (the British National Corpus was chosen as a reference corpus), it is clear that in the BNC the first words are all function words, the first content word being time, ranking 57th, as we can see in Table 3:


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    Comparing the two lists, the words that emerge - the keywords - are those which are unusually frequent in the reference corpus, the general English corpus in this case, or to put it another way, the ones which are more frequently used in the European corpus.

    The KeyWords tool operates by comparing a word list of the source text, with (usually) a larger word list based on the reference corpus3. As long as any given word is repeated a minimum number of times, its frequency in the source text is compared with the same frequency of the same word-form in the corpus, and if the difference is sufficiently great, the item is deemed to be key4. The notion underlying this is therefore "outstandingness" based on comparison5.

    The features which are similar in both corpora do not surface in the comparison. Only the features where there is a significant departure from the reference corpus become prominent for inspection6. The words that emerge are those words that have generated the greatest statistical prominence when compared with the RC, as is clear in Table 4:

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    Predictably, "shall" ranks 1st. It ranked top of the list even in the Wordlist, 7th. Deontic "shall" is strongly identified with legal English; Bowers7 asserts that the shall construction is used as "a kind of totem to conjure up the flavour of the law". In most cases in prescriptive legal texts the shall construction corresponds to the Italian form of the Present Simple, as in "The motto of the Union shall be United in Diversity", "Il motto dell'Unione è Uniti nella Diversità". One is immediately tempted to ask whether the two forms convey exactly the same meaning, and the answer may be that they do not, even if they serve essentially the same purpose: that of expressing authoritativeness, rather than strong obligation. The shall construction represents, as it were, the voice of authority8.

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    All the words in the list are pointers to a specialized language, but some, more than others, clearly show that they make meaning mainly in combination with others...

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