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Oil, Lisbon loom over EU summit

Latest update : 2008-06-20

Heads of state of the 27 EU member nations are meeting in Brussels Thursday after an eventful week that saw the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty and its approval by the UK parliament. Soaring oil prices are also on the agenda.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels Thursday, eager to show that Europe can tackle pressing issues such as soaring oil prices, while handling the crisis caused by Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.
   
The 27 heads of state and government received a boost late Wednesday when the British parliament approved the treaty, designed to bring the EU's creaking institutions up to date to deal with an ever-expanding bloc.
   
After a stormy debate the unelected upper House of Lords effectively ratified the treaty.
   
Britain, one of the  iggest and most eurosceptic member states, thus became the first nation to push forward with the treaty since Irish voters firmly rejected it in a referendum a week ago.
   
The bill is set to go for Royal Assent by Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday morning, hours before British Prime Minister Gordon Brown takes his place at the Brussels summit.
   
To further show that the treaty has not been killed off by the Irish "no" vote, the European leaders are set to confirm that the eight nations still to ratify the text should continue to do so via the parliamentary route.
   
The hope is that the Czechs, whose eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus on Friday declared the treaty finished, will not spoil the determined mood.
   
EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, promised to give Ireland the time and space to seek a way out of the institutional crisis, and no one is expecting a silver bullet solution to materialise this week.
   
However the European leaders want to formulate a plan by October, diplomats said, to avoid the Union plunging into the kind of lengthy navel-gazing which proved fatal to the draft constitution which the Lisbon Treaty was drawn up to replace.
   
There is certainly a feeling of deja vu in Brussels as the constitutional project was scuppered in 2005 by "no" votes in French and Dutch referendums.
   
This time round the EU 27 are keen to show that they are still focussing on the important issues of the day -- by running the EU rather than just discussing how it should be run.
   
Therefore high on the summit agenda are the issues of oil and food price rises.
   
"The 'no' vote must not be a reason for the European Union to fall into the trap of institutional navel gazing," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
   
One thing that the Irish vote has made clear to the leaders is the need to be more attentive to the daily concerns of almost half a billion EU citizens.
   
That message has been underlined by protests by hard-hit farmers, fishermen and truckers in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
   
While eager to show that the European project has not been paralysed, leaders face a tough challenge to demonstrate that their answers to citizens' biggest problems are not long on talk and short on substance.
   
However draft conclusions for the summit, drawn up in advance by ambassadors and foreign ministers and obtained by AFP, simply recommend vague "short-term and targeted" measures to cushion the blow of high oil prices.
   
The text also limits the scope for cutting taxes to ease the pain of high fuel prices, as France has proposed, as well as for offering various subsidies, stating that "distortionary fiscal and other policy interventions should be avoided."
   
On food prices, the leaders will similarly urge that any measures to be "short-term and temporary" while calling for more research into the impact of growing biofuels on food crops, which has been widely blamed for driving up prices.
   
The leaders will also turn their attention to major foreign relations questions, such as the possibility of lifting sanctions on Cuba as well as Zimbabwe's upcoming elections.

Date created : 2008-06-19

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