Work begins on "Lisbon Treaty"

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Lisbon is to give its name to the latest EU treaty

European Union foreign ministers today opened an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) beginning work on on a new treaty for the 27-member bloc. Portugal, the presiding country of the Union during the negotiations, presented its first draft of the 145 page document (with an extra 132 pages of protocols) to foreign ministers in a short ceremony opening the conference.

A mandate for the new Reform Treaty was agreed last month after drawn out European Council negotiations in Brussels. Under the German Presidency of the Union, leaders agreed to drop the proposed Constitution and its state-like elements, yet retain many of its institutional reforms: described by Angela Merkel (German Chancellor and then-Council President) in the terms “The fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained in large part … We have renounced everything that makes people think of a state, like the flag and the national anthem.” This mandate is now going to be taken by the IGC, composed of national and European government officials, and converted into a legal text.

Negotiations are expected to go smoothly. Poland had originally intended to kick up a storm over the chosen voting system, as it stood to lose from the proposed QMV system and favoured keeping the old system or using an alternative. The negotiations concluded that the implementation of the new system would be delayed until 2014. Poland also claimed it had secured a Gentlemen's agreement that it could veto decisions for a further two years, but this was denied by other members. Isolated, Poland relented and agreed to back official agreement, with a minister stating: "Our priority is not to block decisions - we're interested in easier decision-making because we want the Union to function properly." The Polish Prime Minister stated that despite some opposition in Poland, there is no threat to governments' ability to ratify the document.

The IGC should conclude in Lisbon during October of this year and would shortly after be signed in the city; therefore, the city will give its name to the treaty. This will allow ratification throughout 2008 so it can come into force before the 2009 European elections. Most national ratification is expected to take place without referenda, to avoid a repeat of the "no" votes that halted the European Constitution.

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