With most disagreements on the draft ‘Reform Treaty’ ironed out, the Portuguese Presidency has decided to shift EU leaders’ attention to a general debate on globalisation at an informal summit in Lisbon. Meanwhile, a new opinion poll shows citizens in the EU’s five largest member states are in favour of holding a referendum on the new text.
EU heads of state and governments gather in Lisbon on 18-19 October to put their seal of approval on a draft ‘Reform Treaty’ that will adapt the EU’s institutions after twelve new members joined in the past three years.
But with little left to discuss, Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates has decided to shift EU leaders’ attention to other topics: the current financial market turmoil and preparations for the UN climate change conference in Bali later this year.
“I believe that these subjects are important and I hope that we will have a fruitful debate,” Socrates said. “I am however well aware that the agenda is ambitious and time is short, especially because my main priority will be to secure agreement on the future Treaty.”
- Last hurdles on the way to a ‘Treaty of Lisbon’
Speaking ahead of the summit, Commission President José Manuel Barroso urged EU leaders to come to an agreement. “We have spent six years discussing the institutional architecture. It is time to move on,” he told journalists on 17 October.
However, he warned that the Treaty was not yet a done deal. “I understand that there are still points to settle. But this will not be the Battle of Lisbon. Everyone has the potential to leave Lisbon as a winner this week.”
The final outstanding political issue is Poland’s insistence on including the Ioannina compromise in the treaty text, allowing for key EU decisions to be delayed. However, none of the 26 other member states support the Polish demand. Parliament sources suggest that a possible option for compromise would be to add the Ioannina clause to a separate document, in the form of a protocol. Such a document would have the same legal status, but could be amended or scrapped by member states at a later stage without having to go through the cumbersome process of treaty change.
On Austria’s last-minute attempt to include a clause allowing it to limit the number of foreign students in its universities, Barroso said that the Commission was “ready to come to a solution”, but dismissed Austria’s quest to link the issue to the Reform Treaty as “not acceptable”.
Similarly, he insisted that Bulgaria’s demand on the spelling of the euro should not be an issue at the treaty negotiations.
Meanwhile, Italy still upholds its opposition to include the new distribution of seats as proposed by the Parliament into the new Treaty text. Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said this “could be the most serious issue” left to resolve.
But both the Commission and the Portuguese Presidency said they were confident that the EU founding member will not scupper a deal on the Reform Treaty over this issue. Moreover, Barroso remarked that a new EU Treaty could also be agreed without specifying the exact number of MEPs for each country.