Many consider the treaty is necessary to consolidate the bloc's decision-making procedures after the recent rounds of enlargement and to prepare for possible new member states.
A little more than two years after voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the EU's draft constitution, the bloc's attempts to adapt to the effects of enlargement are back on track.
The reform treaty is essentially a slimmed-down version of the draft constitution. It streamlines EU decision-making, curbing member-state veto rights in certain areas, and ties member-state voting weights in majority decisions to their population size.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said today the reform treaty will improve the EU's ability to act both inside and outside its borders.
"A reform treaty will be good for Europe," Barroso said. "It will bring progress in terms of democratic accountability, in terms of external coherence, in terms of also [an] increased capacity to act, namely in [the] face of the great challenges we have no in this globalized world."
Today's agreement by EU foreign ministers to start putting the last technical finishing touches on the treaty builds on a hard-fought political agreement reached at the last EU summit, in June 2007.
The reform treaty is essentially a slimmed-down version of the draft constitution. It streamlines EU decision-making, curbing member-state veto rights in certain areas, and ties member-state voting weights in majority decisions to their population size. It also downgrades the EU's federalist ambitions in the hope that member states will find it easier to ratify.
This time, only Ireland will hold a referendum.
The EU will acquire a full-time "president" who will chair its summits, although the present system of rotating short-term member-state presidencies will also carry on. The bloc will also in future be represented by a single foreign affairs representative -- although not called "foreign minister," but a "high representative."
A Final Push For Unity
Recent fears that some countries would seek to reopen some of the difficult political issues settled at the June summit were assuaged today when Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told her colleagues that Warsaw will not question the basic elements of the 145-page draft treaty handed out by the current holder of the EU Presidency, Portugal.
However, Barroso felt it necessary today to issue a warning to all member states not to break ranks.
"I hope all the [EU] governments give the Portuguese presidency [their] loyal and active support," he said.
Poland had said in recent weeks that the June deal contained some "misunderstandings," and it appeared Warsaw might try to put back the date when the new voting system would take effect in order to continue benefiting from the current rules, which favor medium-sized and smaller countries.
Portugal hopes to wrap up what it insists will be the current talks -- which will not go beyond legal and technical points -- by the next EU summit, on October 18. The EU's 27 member states would then be expected to ratify the reform treaty in time for the next European Parliament elections in the summer of 2009.
Although EU officials have said a new treaty is necessary to allow the bloc to enlarge, some member states are already looking to put further brakes on the process.
France has said it wants the following EU summit, in December, to hold a discussion on "Europe's borders" with a view to settling once and for all which countries will in future be eligible for EU membership.
Paris has emerged as one of the leaders of the anti-enlargement camp within the EU, arguing that Turkey -- although a candidate country -- should be denied EU membership prospects.