EU officials confident in run-up to Treaty summit

The Portuguese Presidency and the Commission have shown optimism that an agreement can be found on the proposed Reform Treaty at a crucial summit in Lisbon next week. They were in Parliament yesterday to update MEPs on the issue as Poland remains the last stumbling block.

Manuel Lobo Antunes, Portugal’s Europe Minister, and Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström were speaking in Parliament on 10 October to outline the state of preparations on the EU’s proposed new Treaty.

With only days remaining before the Lisbon Summit on 18-19 October, Poland is emerging as the last possible stumbling block. 

Polish demands focus on the insertion of a clause into the new EU Treaty text – the so-called Ioannina compromise – a complex system that allows key decisions in the Council to be delayed, even when there is no blocking minority among EU ministers.

President Lech Kaczynski sought to reassure his European partners earlier this week, declaring during a visit to Paris that the chances of finding an agreement in Lisbon were “95-98%” (EURACTIV 9/10/07). 

But his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslav Kaczynski, decided to take a hard line just one day later. Speaking to Polish radio on 9 October, the Polish PM said: “We want to see Ioannina have the force of law. There are many methods by which this can happen. A protocol for example would be entirely satisfactory to us.”

The Poles are asking for the Ioannina clause to be included in the protocols of the Treaty, instead of having it merely attached in a separate “declaration”. This would upgrade to legal status the Ioannina clause by which decisions could be substantially postponed.

During the debate in Parliament, most MEPs expressed support for the Portuguese Presidency's efforts to seal a deal in Lisbon and called for increased co-operation to allow for the new EU Treaty to be ratified swiftly. 

However, they also criticised what they described as shortcomings in the text, specifically regarding EU citizenship, the British opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and provisions concerning privacy and the protection of personal data.

Portuguese Europe Minister Manuel 
Lobo Antunes said that until now, the result of the negotiation process was "positive", despite its high political sensitivity. However, he conceded that it was "no secret" that there was one member state that sought to debate certain issues – a clear reference to Poland's push to include the Ioannina compromise in the Treaty text. Antunes added that the Presidency would actively help to find a balanced solution to satisfy all sides and leave nobody out of this process.

Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström expressed her hope that the informal summit in Lisbon would not only deliver an agreement on the Reform Treaty, but also allow a deepening of the debate on how the EU responds to globalisation. She underlined that this was an "important rendez-vous at an important time" and added: "Let's show that the EU looks ahead to meet tomorrow's challenges by equipping it with the right tools."

Elmar Brok, Parliament representative at the IGC and member of the EPP-ED group, said that the "chances are good for a success of the Reform Treaty". He added that with the new Treaty "the democratic hole in the side of EU has now been closed." Nevertheless, he pointed out that efforts still had to be made to clarify regulation on data protection and made it clear that the Parliament would demand a say in the appointment of the future EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

According to Socialist MEP Enrique Baron Crespo, the Parliament considers the legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights to be the "sine qua non condition" for getting the backing of MEPs. He also warned against introducing new unanimity mechanisms, referring to the Ioannina clause and comparing it to an atomic bomb: "It is useful when it is not used."

Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said he expected a political agreement at the summit, but expressed doubts about its quality, also warning of a "self-service Europe" where anyone can pick and chose their opt-outs.

Legal experts from the 27 member states finished translating the mandate, agreed by EU heads of state at their June Summit, into a new draft Treaty earlier this month (EURACTIV 3/10/07).

With legal issues ironed out, the only remaining uncertainties are political, with Poland preparing for early parliamentary elections on 21 October, just days after a deal is to be agreed among EU leaders at an informal summit in Lisbon on 18-19 October.

  • 15-16 Oct. 2007:  EU member states are expected to sound out a political agreement on the final Treaty text at a Foreign Ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.
  • 18-19 Oct. 2007: Heads of state and governments are expected to agree on the final text of the new EU Treaty at an informal summit.
  • 21 Oct. 2007: Poland holds early parliamentary elections.

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