Main points of EU reform treaty


The European Union’s treaty cleared a key hurdle on the way to its ratification across the bloc, when the lower house of Polish parliament ended weeks of bickering over the charter and endorsed it vote on Tuesday.

Here are some of the main points of the 250-page treaty, which must be ratified by all 27 members by 2009. The treaty incorporates the reforms in the bloc’s defunct constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 while discarding the name, structure and symbols.

INSTITUTIONS - EU leaders will choose a president of the European Council for 2-1/2 years renewable to strengthen the current system of rotating presidencies. A powerful new foreign policy chief, at the head of an EU foreign service, will give the bloc a greater say on the world stage. The High Representative will answer to EU governments but also be vice-president of the European Commission and manage the EU executive’s huge external aid budget. The Eurogroup of finance ministers of countries that share the euro single currency is formalized for the first time and elects a chairman for a renewable 2-1/2-year term. Member states will benefit from a NATO-style mutual defense clause in case of one of them being attacked.

The European Court of Justice will be given more power by being allowed to rule for the first time on whether national legislation on justice and home affairs is compatible with EU laws -- except for Britain and Ireland, which secured opt-outs. The European Commission, the EU’s executive, will have fewer members from 2014. Each of the EU’s 27 nations now appoints a commissioner but the number will be capped. The number of seats in the European Parliament will be increased to 751 from 736 envisaged in the last treaty, with their redistribution to be agreed in December after Italy complained about a previous proposed carve-up.

VOTING - EU decision-making will continue to be based on the present unwieldy weighted voting system agreed in the 2000 Nice Treaty until 2014. After that, voting will be based on a more democratic "double majority" system requiring 55% of member states representing 65% of the EU population to pass a decision.

At Poland’s insistence, from 2014 to 2017 any country can ask for a reversion to the old rules in any vote. Warsaw also secured a provision that would allow states just short of a blocking minority to delay EU decisions for several months. The treaty allows decision-making in more policy areas by majority voting, notably in justice and home affairs. Foreign policy, tax matters and the EU budget and revenue decisions will continue to require unanimity. Britain and Ireland won the right to opt out of closer police and justice cooperation, but not to stop other member states moving ahead without them.

CITIZEN RIGHTS - The treaty gives binding force to an existing Charter of Fundamental Rights in all member states except Britain and Poland, which won opt-outs. Britain did not want provisions such as a broadly defined right to strike – the subject of bitter labor conflicts in the 1980s -- to be imposed from outside. Poland said it would respect labor provisions, but it needed to ensure that in the future the EU did not force it to change its laws on family and morality, such as on abortion.

POLICIES - The treaty introduces as objectives a common energy policy and fighting climate change. A solidarity clause ensures mutual aid in cases of a terrorist attack or other disasters. The treaty introduces a formal possibility for a country to leave the EU under negotiated terms. (Reuters)

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