One of the biggest changes the Lisbon Treaty makes, is to enshrine the Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of Treaty law - you can find it here (PDF). It's based on the European Convention of Human Rights (which is the product of the Council of Europe, which is separate from the EU), which the EU would also sign up to if Lisbon is ratified. Though the European Court of Justice has drawn on the ECHR as being part of the legal culture of Europe, this would be the first time that these rights will be part of the EU's primary law, along with the four freedoms (of goods, services, people and capital) that underpin the single market.
The aim of enshrining these rights is to boost the social side of the EU, and to make its laws more responsive to human rights and workers' rights. Though the EU has long had a positive impact on gender equality and other rights, the Charter is a response to the criticism that the economic rather than human elements of the single market dominate the EU's law making. The Charter will only apply to EU law, and national laws that implement EU laws - so it can't be used to expand the EU's powers or competences (it even says so explicitly in Article 51(2)).
One of the principal arguments I've come across from No campaigners is, in absence of any objection to the Treaty itself, that having a second referendum is undemocratic, and that the people who voted No last time should be respected. The difficulty with this argument is that respecting and listening to the No voters is exactly what has led us to have this second referendum.
After the last referendum, it was quite clear that a renegotiation of certain aspects of the treaty was on the cards. The two biggest No campaign groups, Sinn Fein and Libertas, had both campaigned on the basis of going back to the EU and renegotiating on their contentious issues. Furthermore, no less than 76% of No voters believed that the No vote would be used to "renegotiate exceptions within the treaty", which gave the Government a clear mandate to seek this new deal before putting the treaty back to the people.
Which is exactly what the Government did. The biggest issues for No voters in the referendum were 'Loss of Commissioner' (which 71% of No voters said was somewhat/very important to their vote), 'Neutrality' (82%), 'Workers Rights' (82%), 'Abortion' (66%) and 'Corporation Tax' (72%), which were unsurprisingly the points which the main No groups campaigned on in the run-up to the referendum. These top issues are the very ones which the Government received guarantees on from the 26 other member states, guarantees which state in the most unequivocal terms that these matters will be decided at national, not EU, level.
While I can certainly accept that a No voter might not be happy with these guarantees, might feel that they don't address his or her specific concerns, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the Government doesn't have the right, after listening to the voters and attempting to address their worries, to put this new deal back to the people for a second vote, and allow the people a chance to say whether their concerns have been met or not.
So why are we actually voting on this treaty? Does Europe need the Lisbon Treaty?
The answer is Yes. If Ireland dosent pass the Lisbon Treaty, there will be another period of soul searching and the European Governments will agree on another treaty, which could be better or worse then this treaty.
The EU was intially made for six countries, and it worked quite well with 15. But since 2004 its at its limit. We are now a union of 27 countries and its getting harder to get things done. The EU needs reform.
Lisbon is the reform. No one is going to 100% happy with the treaty, but overall I think Lisbon is a good deal.
It limits the EU's powers, it gives us a citizens a role, and it gives powers to our elected representatives, both national and european. Not exactly bad things.
If Europe is too move forward and if it is to have influence in the Balkans (prospect of entry) then we need the Lisbon Treaty to be passed. For Europe to be competive in a regionalised world, then we need to update how we do things in Europe with Lisbon.
Europe if is to remain important needs to reform. This is why we need Lisbon.