European Union leaders voiced relief at clinching a deal on Friday on a treaty to reform the 27-nation bloc’s institutions, replacing a defunct constitution and ending a two-year crisis of confidence in Europe’s future.
”It’s an important page in the history of Europe. Europe is now stronger, more confident and ready to face the challenges in the future,” Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said on arriving to chair the second day of an EU summit.
After their post-midnight deal, leaders hugged each other and toasted with champagne a treaty that will be signed on December 13 in Lisbon. But for some, the celebration was tempered with pangs of regret for the constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
”At least it’s a good thing it is over now. Now we need to continue to work to have it ratified in all countries — it won’t be easy,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, one of the most fervent backers of the constitutional project.
Asked to comment on the deal, French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a thumbs-up to reporters but said nothing before entering a second day of talks, set to cover economic issues.
Provided it is ratified by all 27 member states, the treaty will take effect in 2009, giving the EU a long-term president, a more powerful foreign policy chief, more democratic decision-making and more say for the European and national parliaments.
Clinched after midnight, the accord ends a crisis opened by Dutch and French rejections that were votes of no confidence in an organisation seen as remote and bureaucratic.
This time, only Ireland is likely to hold a referendum.
The more modest treaty is not styled a constitution and omits any mention of an EU anthem or flag, but it retains all the key reforms in the original charter.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference: ”We have said many times that reform is not an end in itself. With these institutions now, we can look after the most important priorities for our citizens.”
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the agreement marked an end to ”six years of institutional navel-gazing”.
Britain’s opposition Conservatives and the mass-circulation Sun newspaper stepped up their campaign for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to give Britons a vote on the treaty, accusing him of breaking a promise to hold a plebiscite on the old charter.
”Brown surrenders Britain’s power to Europe over dinner,” said the tabloid Sun newspaper in a double page spread under the banner headline ”The Last Supper”, likening the British prime minister to Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus Christ.
But Brown held firm to the argument that the treaty is less ambitious than the constitution and does not require a referendum, insisting he had also obtained safeguards limiting how it will apply to British justice and labour policy.
In the final wrangling, Italy won one extra seat in the European Parliament. Poland won a guarantee that a provision allowing small groups of states to delay EU decisions could only be overturned by unanimity, plus a permanent advocate general’s job at the European Court of Justice for a Pole.
There were also concessions on side issues to Austria, Bulgaria and the European Parliament in a typical package deal.
Warsaw, which before the start of the two-day summit had threatened to delay the talks if its demands on new voting arrangements were not met, said its key demand had been met.
”Poland achieved all it wanted,” President Lech Kaczynski told reporters.
Poland had fought against the changed voting system at a bitter summit in June, saying it would give too much power to Germany, Europe’s most populous nation, at Warsaw’s expense. — Reuters