Finally, the Lisbon Treaty takes effect in the European Union, after Ireland voted with "yes" in a referendum in early October. With the Treaty, the EU now gets two new offices: A permanent President of the European Council (the highest legislative body of the EU) who is elected for 2.5 years, and a High Representant for Foreign Policy. In the past, the presidency of the EU council had been rotating every 6 moths between the respective heads of state of the member states. The new permanent President is supposed to provide more stability and long-term planning. Also, the process of ratification has been streamlined, the veto power of single member countries has been reduced, and there now is the possibility for EU-wide referendum petitions. The competence of the EU Parliament has been strengthened. With the Lisbon Treaty, there comes a charta of universal human and civil rights binding for the EU member states, and for the first time, there is a withdrawal clause that allows single member states to leave the EU again, if they wish so. Here an article on the Treaty by Jerzy Buzek, President of the EU Parliament and former Prime Minister of Poland: link Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy now becomes the first permanent EU Council President for the next 2.5 years. British politician Catherine Ashton becomes High Representant for Foreign Policy, the EU's "foreign minister" (which is not called that way because the British didn't want to evoke the impression the EU becomes a super-state). The EU now encompasses 27 member states on the European continent, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, and a population of almost 500 million people. Additional countries may join the EU within the next few years, as for example Iceland and Croatia. An EU membership of Turkey, which officially has the status of a membership candidate, is still controversially debated.