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Leaders at summit to back Barroso, push again for Lisbon Treaty


Latest update : 2009-06-19

The 27 EU heads of state and government meeting in Brussels on Thursday will back EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term. They are also set to give Ireland the guarantees it wants to finally push through the Lisbon Treaty.

AFP - EU leaders, starting two days of talks Thursday, are set to back EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term and give Ireland the guarantees it wants to push through the Lisbon Treaty.

The summit of the 27 heads of state and government will give the conservative ex-Portuguese PM their political blessing for another five years at the helm of the EU executive, diplomats said, with the overriding sentiment being that stability is key during the economic crisis and institutional change.

His prize will be another five years in charge of the commission which helps draw up European law and will control an operating budget of 138 billion euros next year.

That's despite the fact that France and others have criticised Barroso over his commission's slow reaction to the economic crisis.

Without a viable alternative, or even declared rival in sight, the 53-year-old Barroso is set to get "political backing" from the European leaders meeting in Brussels, with formal reappointment to follow.

That could happen in mid-July when the new European parliament meets for the first time after elections which returned the centre right European People's Party -- which includes Barroso in its ranks -- as the biggest grouping.

That scenario is in line with new French and German proposals designed to get Barroso reconfirmed without waiting for the bloc's delayed Lisbon Treaty, which will change the institutional rules if and when it comes into force.

A year ago Irish voters rejected the treaty, which is designed to streamline the workings of the European Union which has expanded far into the former Soviet Union since 2004.

Those voters will be asked the question again at a second referendum in September or October, and while opinion polls show the economic crisis has made them more EU-friendly, the Irish government wants to maximise the chances of a "yes" vote.

Therefore Dublin has been straining every sinew to obtain legally binding guarantees to assuage fears that the treaty would threaten key national issues such as its military neutrality, tax laws and strict abortion rules.

Those guarantees will be provided at the summit via a legally binding "decision" by the European leaders, diplomats said Wednesday.

However Britain has led opposition to Dublin's request for what Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin called a "copper-plated" guarantee; a full "protocol" which would have to be ratified by all 27 member states.

Such a tactic, London and others argue, could reopen the whole issue of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

On Wednesday, Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus reheated the debate by stating that his country's parliament must in any case ratify the Irish guarantees, or he would not approve them.

Klaus, a fierce opponent of the treaty, said in a letter to Prime Minister Jan Fischer that the guarantees constituted a separate pact which required parliamentary ratification under the Czech constitution.

Klaus has not yet signed off on the treaty while Poland and Germany must also finish the process.

However Ireland remains the focus, as it is the only EU nation constitutionally bound to put the issue to the vote.

At the EU summit, the leaders are also expected to throw their support behind efforts to tighten financial-sector supervision in Europe despite reluctance in Britain to hand over powers to new EU authorities.

Date created : 2009-06-18