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EU Summit To Be An Introspective Affair

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Jose Manuel Barroso is expected to be nominated for a second term as European Commission president

Jose Manuel Barroso is expected to be nominated for a second term as European Commission president

The two-day European Union summit that began in Brussels on June 18 will largely have an inward-looking focus.

The EU's constitutional Lisbon Treaty, yet to be ratified by Ireland, casts a heavy shadow over the proceedings, as its absence complicates decision making on a number of fronts.

The summit is also expected to nominate the current president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for another five-year term of office.

It will also review the EU's response to the global economic crisis.

Barroso's Second Term

Barroso's reconfirmation, in theory, should be a foregone conclusion, as he enjoys the virtually unanimous backing of the 27 EU governments and faces no serious contenders.

But there are snags. The fact that Ireland will hold another vote on the Lisbon Treaty in October opens the door to arcane legal complications.

The EU leaders face a choice between appointing Barroso under the terms of the Nice Treaty currently in force, or waiting several months until the Lisbon Treaty takes effect -- if in fact it does.

The EU is anxious to avoid the impression that an Irish "yes" is a fait accompli, a stance which could play into the hands of the "no" camp.

A major problem here is that each treaty gives different guidelines on the size of the European Commission. The current Nice Treaty says the body should from now on contain fewer commissioners than there are member states. But this is no longer a popular idea, especially among the new members, who fear being marginalized.

Delaying a decision on Barroso and the commission, on the other hand, could raise the specter of another leadership crisis at a time of continued economic gloom.

Barroso could also face problems in the European Parliament, which must confirm his nomination. There is no clear majority in his favor.

EU leaders are likely to opt for a halfway measure -- declaring "political" support for Barroso and risking a confirmation vote in the European Parliament in July, but putting the formal decision off until after October.

This has so far been the strategy favored by Germany and France, which appear to reckon that keeping Barroso on his toes could help their representatives land more important portfolios in the next commission. A tussle is developing among the larger EU powers for economic briefs in particular.

In a related legal wrangle, the EU leaders must decide how to accommodate Ireland's demand for a number of guarantees, seen as essential if the government is to win the referendum in October.

Ireland wants assurances that the Lisbon Treaty will not interfere with its sovereignty or laws relating to family matters and ethical issues. Issues such as divorce and abortion remain highly charged in Ireland, as it remains a staunchly Catholic country.

Economy Risks

Also neutral, Ireland wants guarantees it will not be compelled to join any military ventures and that there will be no EU army. Taxation is a third issue which Dublin wants protected from EU interference.

The rest of the member states are happy enough to give such assurances, but their form remains a question. Ireland wants the assurances to be as legally ironclad as possible, but this raises problems for others who fear this could create a precedent for rolling back existing EU laws.

The EU leaders will also discuss economic risk management measures and are set to approve the creation of a joint "systemic risks council," although its precise remit remains a matter of contention.

Britain in particular is loath to give the new body broad powers. The same applies to what are known as micro-level surveillance institutions to be imposed on the insurance, banking, and securities sectors.

There will be no new stimulus package. The poorer Eastern European countries are likely to be offered the chance to use EU funds in 2009-2010 without any need to meet the usual 15-percent co-financing requirement for projects. The savings will in essence be a temporary advance, with co-financing costs going up after 2010 in compensation.

Climate change is likely to be broached in passing, with the EU preparing a joint position for a global meeting on the issue in Copenhagen in December. Poland is currently blocking the agreement, arguing that the EU's internal distribution of the costs of greenhouse-gas reduction must make allowances for the problems faced by poorer countries.

International issues will have a low profile during this summit. EU foreign ministers, accompanying their respective heads of state and government, will discuss Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Georgia over dinner tonight.

They will also coordinate positions for an OSCE meeting later this month on the Greek island of Corfu, which will weigh Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's proposals for a new "security architecture" for Europe.

All member states agree in broad outline that the current security structure in Europe is adequate, although there remains room for improvement.

The summit will adopt a short declaration on the Eastern Partnership, which brings Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in closer cooperation with the EU.

The bloc will note the initiative will benefit both the EU and its neighbors, and reiterate the commitment of the European Commission and the EU's future presidencies to work to implement the decisions taken at the May 7 Eastern Partnership launch summit in Prague.

Georgia is likely to be the subject of another short EU summit declaration in the wake of this week's Russian veto on the extension of the UNOMIG mission in Abkhazia.