EU summit faces difficult issues

09:26, 18 June 2009
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two particularly thorny issues...

EU leaders are set to grapple with two particularly thorny issues at a summit in Brussels - the Lisbon Treaty and how to tighten financial regulation, according to BBC.

The leaders also have the easier task of nominating the conservative Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term as EU Commission president.

He has no rival - and even has backing from some centre-left leaders.

The summit follows European elections which saw a general swing to the right and some gains for Eurosceptics.

EU leaders are anxious to draw a line under the Lisbon Treaty debate.

But there has been much wrangling over the legal guarantees that the Irish government requires in order to put the Lisbon Treaty to a second referendum, likely to be held in October.

Time pressure

The referendum is crucial to the treaty`s future. It is probably the last big hurdle, as nearly all the 27 member states have now ratified it, though the British Conservatives` pledge to hold a referendum, if elected, has made this a race against time.

A second Irish "No" vote, like the one a year ago, would be deeply humiliating for EU leaders. They have spent years working on the institutional changes they deem necessary to make the enlarged bloc perform efficiently.

The guarantees are expected to take the form of a legally binding political decision by the European Council - the EU prime ministers and presidents.

They will cover what Dublin identified as key areas of concern for Irish voters - military neutrality, sovereignty over taxes and opposition to abortion.

The guarantees - essentially assurances to voters - are to be made specific to the Republic of Ireland and robust enough to resist any legal challenge in the EU. Above all, the leaders want to close any legal loophole that could be used to reopen the Lisbon Treaty negotiations.

The number of EU commissioners is to be kept at 27, again to accommodate Ireland, though the original plan was to have 18 as from 2014.

The leaders` decision is expected to be modelled on the legally binding agreement made with Denmark after its voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. It would not require approval by other EU institutions.

It is not yet clear whether the decision will be incorporated into a subsequent EU treaty. France has suggested it could be added to Croatia`s EU accession treaty, when that is ready for ratification.

Financial woes

The banking crisis looms large over this two-day summit, so the powers of new EU regulatory bodies will be hotly debated.

The discussions centre on recommendations by an expert panel headed by Jacques de Larosiere, a former IMF managing director.

The UK government, anxious to maintain the global authority of the City of London, is wary of the European Central Bank chairing the proposed new European Systemic Risk Board. Its job would be to spot any threats to financial stability across the EU. The UK and a few other EU nations do not want this key role to be monopolised by the 16-nation eurozone.

There are also concerns about the proposed European System of Financial Supervisors, whose job would be to monitor individual financial firms. The big question is whether these European regulators would be able to overrule a national government, for example by instructing it to bail out a particular firm.

The UK insists it should have the final say over its taxpayers` money. The multi-billion-pound bailouts of Northern Rock, Lloyds TSB and HBOS highlight the sensitivity of this issue.

The Czech Republic, chairing its last summit as EU president, says it wants to secure a political deal that would empower the European Commission to create a new supervisory framework. The goal is to put the blueprint into action next year.

The summit will also touch on preparations for the UN conference on climate change, coming up in December.

The Czechs want the debate to focus on EU support for developing countries, to help them mitigate the effects of climate change.

"We need a simple, effective and accountable system that ensures that only real reductions of emissions receive financial support," Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said recently.

By Laurence Peter, BBC 

 

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