Thursday, December 13, 2007

So much for democracy in Europe . . .

EU Leaders Sign Treaty, Plan to Avoid Popular Votes

By James G. Neuger

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- European Union leaders signed a new governing treaty, with most countries planning parliamentary ratification to escape the popular votes that doomed the EU constitution.

The leaders set a January 2009 deadline for all 27 countries to ratify the Reform Treaty, which streamlines the EU's decision-making machinery and creates the post of full-time president. A veto in any country would quash the treaty.

``Europe has finally overcome the political and institutional impasse which has curtailed its ability to act,'' Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said at the signing ceremony at a monastery in Lisbon today.

Only Ireland is legally bound to putting the treaty to a referendum, as the EU seeks to avoid a repeat of the no votes in France and the Netherlands that killed the constitution in 2005 and plunged the bloc into institutional gridlock.

Opponents geared up for the campaign in Ireland, which voted down the EU's current rulebook in 2001 only to back it a year later. Support for the Reform Treaty was running at 25 percent in late October, with 13 percent against and 62 percent undecided, according to an Irish Times poll.

``The treaty is being sold as a warm bowl of soup with nice vegetable bits,'' Declan Ganley, head of anti-treaty group Libertas, said at a press conference in Dublin today. ``We'll be pointing to the dead mice in there.''

The treaty would endow the EU with a president for a 2 1/2- year term, strengthen the bloc's foreign policy envoy, bolster the EU's crime-fighting powers and enhance the role of the democratically elected European Parliament.

Capacity to Act

``The European Union must have a decisive capacity to act on the world stage,'' European Commission President Jose Barroso said.

Denmark, which needed two votes to pass the Maastricht Treaty, announced this week that the new treaty will go through parliament. France and the Netherlands, the two countries that blocked the constitution, also plan parliamentary votes.

Portugal, which brokered the accord in October and dubs the document the Lisbon Treaty, has yet to decide whether to hold a referendum.

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has come under fire from the Conservative opposition for planning to usher the treaty through Parliament instead of holding the referendum that predecessor Tony Blair had promised on the constitution.

Referendum Calls

Almost 40 percent of Britons say the new treaty differs little from the constitution, and more than half are undecided, according to a YouGov Plc poll. Fifty-seven percent want a referendum, while 19 percent don't, the survey of 2,105 voters taken Oct. 22-24 shows.

Brown calls the document an ``amending treaty'' that grants the EU fewer powers than earlier treaties that Conservative governments put through Parliament.

Brown started the day at a parliamentary hearing in London and was due to fly to Lisbon immediately afterward. His office said he will sign the treaty when he arrives and isn't skipping the public ceremony in order to distance himself from the EU.

While the new treaty strips out the constitution's references to the EU's flag and anthem, it borrows many of the constitution's ideas such as a new ``double majority'' vote- counting system to expedite lawmaking.

EU lawmakers backed the ``substance of the constitutional treaty'' and the Reform Treaty ``is equally worth defending,'' European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said.

To contact the reporter on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at

Original article posted here.

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