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Agreement reached on drafting new treaty

25 June 2007

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders agreed early Saturday – after two long days of tough negotiations – on guidelines for drafting a new EU treaty to replace the bloc’s aborted constitution.

All 27 leaders – including Poland, which had staged fierce opposition to the proposed treaty – agreed on a “very precise mandate” to draft a streamlined treaty that will guide and govern the expanded EU, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired the marathon talks, said the deal “represents a significant step forward for the European Union.”

Sarkozy joined Merkel in calling the agreement “very good news for Europe.”

And Polish President Lech Kaczynski said he, too, was pleased with the outcome.

“I am very happy … we did not have to swallow any bitter pills,” he said. “The position of Poland is definitely stronger under this system.”

Merkel had made it a priority of her country’s six-month EU presidency to come up with a viable plan for a treaty to replace the now-defunct EU charter that Dutch and French voters rejected two years ago.

She sought to salvage key parts of the stalled constitution necessary to streamline EU decision making, including overhauling the unwieldy EU voting system and giving the EU more power in policing.

Merkel said Saturday that she was happy leaders were able to keep key parts of the previous charter alive, despite the often deep and acrimonious divisions that tested the bloc’s unity.

“This shows that Europe came together at the end,” she said.

Poland had come to the summit vehemently opposed to changing the voting system, saying the new formula would diminish Warsaw’s clout and threatening to use its veto if the final draft treaty does not heed its demands.

Britain issued its “red lines” – insisting that any treaty must not resemble the failed constitution, and demanding that it retain certain rights on issues of policing, justice and internal affairs.

It was clear at the opening of the summit Thursday that agreement on the roadmap was not going to come easy.

Merkel spent Friday morning meeting with some leaders one-on-one. She and other leaders huddled behind closed doors with Kaczynski, offering Poland various compromise proposals on the voting system.

As the talks wore on, Merkel sought to put pressure on Poland to sign onto her proposal by saying Germany would move forward with negotiations on the roadmap – even without Poland’s blessing.

Warsaw finally agreed to a French-German suggestion late Friday night, according to Sarkozy’s spokesman.

As the discussions and compromises dragged into Saturday, other nations came forth with their own lists of complaints. Leaders hunkered down and went through the mandate, eventually coming to an agreement shortly before 5 a.m.

“It went on for a long time but we achieved what we wanted,” Merkel said at a briefing to announce the agreement.

She said the drafting of the treaty will begin in coming months, with ratification by the end of 2007. She said the goal is to have the rulebook in place by 2009.

“What this means for us is that we are moving out of stoppage,” she said. “We managed to get all 27 states on board in the end.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the leaders complete the toughest part of the process.

“I don’t think there is anything that can derail the process now,” he said. “The rest is drafting.”

He said all of Britain’s “red lines” had been met.

“The most important thing here is that the constitutional treaty was put to one side. This deal gives us a chance to move on,” he said.

Sarkozy said it was a key achievement to negotiate a compromise with Poland.

“After all, we didn’t want to leave the biggest country in eastern Europe behind,” he said. “We didn’t move ahead with 26, but with 27.”

[Copyright AP 2007]

Subject: Dutch news, Belgian news, European news