28th Oct 2016

EU leaders to sign up to new treaty

  • Only 16 leaders are expected to sign a declaration on EU symbols (Photo: European Commission)

EU leaders will fly to Lisbon today to sign up to a new treaty for the European Union, a ceremony that has almost been overshadowed by travel details and the British prime minister's agenda clash.

The new set of rules for the European Union, some six years in the making, will be signed off at a monastery in the Portuguese capital at 11.30 this morning, officially turning the document into the Treaty of Lisbon.

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"The treaty is, of course, not perfect," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, ahead of the signature, with the new rules spread out across a series of treaties, old and new, and containing a hotpotch of opt-outs, protocols and declarations to keep all national capitals happy.

Its most visible innovations include a permanent president of the EU, an EU foreign minister, greater powers to the European Parliament and a legally binding citizens rights charter.

In addition, it reduces the size of the European commission, allows for easier decision-making by changing voting rules - both from 2014 - and curbs the power of single member states to veto legislation.

The treaty is designed to make the EU more effective on the world stage both by giving it a more coherent foreign policy and by allowing it to take decisions quickly.

Today's ceremony also draws a line under what has been a difficult few years for the EU which was plunged into crisis mid 2005 when two of its founding member states rejected the original European constitution.

It took two years for the bloc to pick itself up and finally agree on the Lisbon Treaty, which takes on most of the draft constitution's innovations, but not its reader-friendly format.

Although some leaders are likely to hail the historic importance of the occasion, the run-up to the ceremony has been dogged by more pragmatic concerns.

Plane pooling, EU symbols and the British PM

Green groups have accused the EU of being blatantly hypocritical by preaching about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but staging a short signing ceremony in Lisbon before all EU leaders fly back again for their end of year summit in Brussels, beginning tomorrow.

Some EU politicians have since been at pains to stress their green credentials by plane pooling.

Mr Barroso is expected to share a plane with Portuguese prime minister Socrates, both of whom will be flying from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, while the leaders of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg will arrive together as will the leaders of Sweden and Denmark.

Meanwhile, British prime minister Gordon Brown – for whom the EU treaty is a domestic political headache - has managed to create reams of headlines for himself by first saying he would not attend the ceremony due to an agenda clash and then saying he would attend it, but only later.

This means that he is set to sign the treaty alone, about an hour and half after his EU counterparts.

Member states' disparate approach to the EU has also been highlighted by an attempt by Germany to get the 27 to sign up to a declaration in support of the EU symbols – the flag, anthem and motto – which were dropped from the new treaty. Only 16 leaders are expected to sign this declaration.

The signing the treaty immediately brings the next stage into sharp focus: ratification.

All member states have to ratify the treaty for it to come into force, with several states, including France, aiming to have the process completed early in 2008. Ireland is the only country likely to have a referendum on the document, which is supposed to come into place by early 2009.

Meanwhile, next year will see EU diplomats try and work out all the sensitive political loose ends that have been left open in the treaty, including the exact set-up for the planned diplomatic service.

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