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EU leaders reach deal on new draft treaty

Posted: 2007-06-23
From: Mathaba
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BRUSSELS, June 23 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of the European Union (EU) reached an agreement early Saturday on a new "reform treaty" to replace its failed constitution, pulling the 27-nation bloc out of a two-year-old impasse.

"What counts for me and for us is that we're moving out of stoppage and reflection. We have a new mandate of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC)," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the conclusion of the EU summit, which was prolonged into its third day after little progress was reported during talks on Thursday and Friday.

"We are very very satisfied with what we achieved this morning," said a jubilant Merkel, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Merkel said the IGC should be concluded by the end of 2007 so that there is enough time for ratification, hopefully in 2009, before elections in the European Parliament.

The "double majority" voting system envisaged in the constitution proved to be the hottest-debated issue at the prolonged summit.

Poland had vowed to derail the summit should its demands on the voting scheme in the decision-making Council of Ministers not be met.

As a compromise, the leaders agreed to postpone the introduction of the "double majority" voting system to 2014 with a further three-year period of transition. The constitution envisaged the adoption of the scheme by 2009.

Under the "double majority" voting system, bills require approval of at least 55percent of member states representing 65 percent or more of EU's total population. It takes the votes of at least four member states to block any decision by the council.

Poland had feared that the new system would give populous countries such as Germany too much power in decision-making. Warsaw proposed a square root formula instead -- a nation's votes in the council would equal the square root of its population. Its demand was supported by the Czech Republic only and was rejected by the summit.

Merkel said the substance of the constitution was maintained, including the creation of a permanent presidency for the European Council, the EU's highest decision-making body.

The creation of the post will replace the current six-month rotational presidency and give continuity to policy-making.

The leaders also agreed to create a post for EU foreign minister. But the name was changed to "high representative for foreign affairs and security policy" in a bid to quell euroskeptic fears that the name of foreign minister may incur the idea equaling the EU to a super-state.

The EU high representative will concurrently be vice president of a revamped European Commission and chair meetings of EU foreign ministers.

The creation of such a post will merge the portfolios of Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, at the council and the commission respectively, to reduce bureaucracy.

Similarly, to accommodate euroskeptics, the agreement made no mention of the symbols of the EU such as the 12-star flag, the anthem or the motto. The EU flag will continue to fly, though, said Merkel.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, also at the press conference, said that with the latest success, "the EU is moving in the right direction" and on "an expression of solidarity."

He asked all EU member states to engage in the spirit of solidarity in the upcoming IGC negotiations.

As for the ratification of the new treaty, Merkel said it is up to the member states to decide whether to put it to referendums.

The EU constitution, signed by all member states in 2004, was vetoed by French and Dutch voters in referendums in 2005, putting the bloc into a period of reflection.
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