EU to grant Ireland guarantees ahead of treaty vote
The Irish prime minister has been pushing hard for guarantees that the treaty of reforms will not endanger Ireland's traditional military neutrality or its strict abortion laws.Brussels -- European leaders on Thursday were close to approving Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term as EU Commission chief, but struggled to agree on how to relaunch the stalled Lisbon Treaty in Ireland.
The 27 leaders were also due to discuss efforts to tighten financial-sector supervision, despite British reluctance to hand over powers to new EU authorities.
Little more than a week after European parliament elections, Barroso is virtually assured of winning five more years. There is no other viable candidate.
"I support a second mandate for Jose Manuel Barroso" and "I hope that we can this evening take a political decision" on it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she arrived in Brussels for the two-day summit.
There is little stomach in Europe for a long-drawn out battle for the job during a time of crisis.
"Europe is in deep economic crisis," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country takes over the EU presidency on July 1.
"We need to act on the climate crisis ... so this is not the time to make confusions concerning European leadership."
But Barros, a former prime minister of Portugal, has his critics. Some argue his commission moved too slowly as the financial crisis unfolded last year.
And his candidacy still has to be endorsed by the new European parliament, which sits for the first time in mid-July, and the socialists have warned they will oppose his reappointment.
That means Barroso's conservative backers will have to woo eurosceptics to secure the majority they need.
All the manoeuvring surrounding his endorsement is a way for nations -- notably France and Germany -- to secure senior posts within Barroso's commission, whose mandate expires at the end of October, say EU diplomats.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen meanwhile was bargaining hard with his fellow European leaders over how to offer Irish voters the maximum guarantees to persuade them to back the stalled Lisbon Treaty.
Cowen sent a letter to his 26 EU counterparts insisting that proffered guarantees that the treaty of reforms will not endanger Ireland's traditional military neutrality or its strict abortion laws should have full treaty status.
Otherwise, he warned, Irish voters could reject the whole Lisbon Treaty a second time: the first time was in the 2008 referendum.
Britain and others are loath to grant Cowen's wish. Their concern is that such a move, which would require formal ratification in all 27 EU nations, would reopen the whole Pandora's box of Lisbon Treaty debate.
They have instead offered a simple EU "decision" on the guarantees, which all agree would be legally binding. They hope that will be enough to secure a second referendum on the treaty, to be held in the autumn.
Although EU leaders had been due to discuss the issue Thursday, with no prospect of an immediate deal the issue was moved to Friday to allow time for a string of bilateral meetings.
EU lawyers were busy seeking the "magic formula" phrase that would satisfy everyone, one diplomat said.
The Lisbon Treaty, designed to streamline a bloc which has almost doubled in size since the current Nice Treaty came into force, was a replacement for the EU's constitution project. That was rejected in French and Dutch referendums.
While the treaty sailed through most EU national parliaments, Ireland alone was constitutionally bound to put it to a public vote.
Apart from Ireland, only the Czech Republic and Poland have still to complete technical ratification, while a legal challenge is pending in Germany.
The European Commission is responsible for drawing up legislation that has a daily impact on the lives of almost half a billion Europeans, as well as enforcing the measures already in place.
Its president -- Barroso's post -- has significant leverage to influence legislative priorities. Like the commissioners, his post is appointed rather than elected.