EU summit: leaders strike treaty deal

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European leaders on Thursday (18 October) reached a deal on a new ‘Reform Treaty’, ending two years of stalemate following the rejection of the draft EU Constitution in 2005. But attention is now soon to turn to ratification, with several countries under pressure to hold a referendum on the new text.

EU leaders on 18 October agreed on a final text of the new EU Treaty at an informal summit in Lisbon. Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates presented the ‘Lisbon Treaty’ deal to journalists on Thursday evening. He said: “With this accord Europe has emerged from its institutional crisis.”

However, some last-minute requests and red lines had to be catered for before the deal was struck:

  • Poland  managed to include the so-called Ioannina clause in a Protocol. This allows for a minority of member states to delay key decisions taken by qualified majority in the Council “within a reasonable space of time”, even if they do not dispose of a blocking minority. However, the clause is not included in the actual Treaty text, which means that member states can alter this provision without having to go through the cumbersome procedure of Treaty change.
  • Italy obtained an extra seat in the European Parliament, putting it back on equal footing with the UK, but giving it one seat less than France.
  • The UK defended its “red lines” and received wide-ranging opt-outs on cooperation in justice and home affairs. The UK and Poland also opted out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Key institutional reforms that the new Treaty will bring include the streamlining of decision-making in the Council, a permanent Council President and an EU foreign policy representative being member of the Council and the Commission, reducing the number of Commissioners and strengthening the role of national parliaments (see LinksDossier).

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates: "With this new treaty, Europe has overcome an impasse that lasted for several years. Europe has emerged stronger from this summit, stronger to face global issues, stronger to take its role in the world and also to increase confidence in our economy and in our citizens."

Commission President José Manuel Barroso: "We have a treaty that will give us now the capacity to act. Our citizens want results. They want to see in concrete terms what Europe brings them…I believe we have a treaty that will give us now the capacity to act".

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was satisfied that his 'red lines' had been respected and that no referendum was needed on the new text: "The British national interest has been protected," he said. 

Speaking to journalists prior to the Summit, he again rejected calls for a referendum on the new text, saying it was fundamentally different from the defunct EU Constitution: "Because we have a very different document with our protocol, with our opt-ins, with our emergency breaks, with all these protections for the British national interest there is no fundamental change and that is why I believe the proper way of discussing this…is parliamentary debate."

He called on EU leaders to "move from that inward-looking institutional discussion to dealing with the major challenges of jobs, prosperity, environmental security and of course security against terrorism". 

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said: "We are now in a situation that recognises Italy's role in Europe. This is the end of a very long period of difficulty in European history. The EU can start again to operate in a concrete way.''

For two years, EU leaders have been trying to solve the "institutional impasse". Two failed referenda on the draft EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands had plunged the Union into a major crisis in 2005 (see LinksDossier).

At an EU Summit on 21-23 June a deal on institutional reform was found (see EURACTIV 23/06/07). Having finalised the technical details, legal experts from the 27 member states presented a new version of the 'Reform Treaty' earlier this month, but some political issues still had to be resolved. Some last-minute objections by Italy, Poland, Austria and Bulgaria had been raised just ahead of the informal summit on 18-19 October (see EURACTIV 18/10/07). The deal therefore comes as a great relief to EU leaders, allowing them to move on and leave institutional issues behind.

However, the biggest hurdle is yet to be overcome: ratification in all 27 member states ahead of the European elections in June 2009. Some member states, such as the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark, are facing heated debates on whether to put the new EU Treaty to a public vote in a referendum.

  • 13 Dec. 2007: The new EU Treaty will be formally signed by heads of state and governments in Lisbon.
  • 1 Jan. 2009: The new Treaty is to enter into force, provided that all member states have have ratified it.
  • June 2009: Deadline for member states' ratification of the "Lisbon Treaty" ahead of European elections.

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