Parliament: EU Treaty talks will raise political issues

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The UK opt-out on the charter of fundamental rights is among the issues in need of “further legal clarification”, according to the three MEPs taking part in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) after a meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

As EU legal experts draft the new Reform Treaty text, some issues still need further discussion, MEPs stated after an informal meeting with Commission President Barroso on 28 August 2007. The meeting sought to align the two institution’s positions, which are said to be “close”.

The three Parliament’s representatives to the IGC – Elmar Brok (EPP-ED), Enrique Barón Crespo (PES) and Andrew Duff (ALDE) – described the discussions with Barroso as “fruitful”, but said that there were issues that needed “further legal clarification, political explanation, or both”.

Following the agreement by EU leaders on the detailed IGC mandate, the European Parliament notably criticised the opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights granted to the UK, where it shall have no legally binding force. However, Parliament sources said that the EU assembly will be cautious in its comments, not to re-open issues already settled in the IGC mandate.

EU foreign ministers will meet in Portugal on 7 September to continue the Treaty talks. The Portuguese Presidency aims to find an agreement on 18-19 October at the informal meeting of heads of states and governments in Lisbon.

Some EU officials fear that the agreement could be put at risk by Poland, which is set to hold early elections soon but has yet to set a date. A new government might question the deal on the Treaty mandate that was reached after much effort at the European Council in June. During the IGC opening session on 23 July, Poland had backed away from asking to reopen the voting rights issue (EURACTIV 24/07/07). But uncertainty about the upcoming Polish elections could put the Portuguese timeline at risk.

“The spectre of Poland holding an election exactly when the IGC is supposed to wrap up the Treaty talks will haunt many in foreign ministries across the EU,” said Katinka Barysch, chief economist at the Centre for European Reform (CER). According to Barysch, Poland’s “last minute political posturing for a home audience could delay the text being signed off”.

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