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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 19, 2007
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Reform Treaty Signed
December 19, 2007   
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The Dec. 13 signing of the European Union's Reform Treaty in Lisbon concluded months of negotiations on a document that aims to lay the legal groundwork for the bloc's future.

The ratification process has began and there is every indication that Poland will be one of the first countries to approve the treaty.

Leaders from the EU's 27 member states signed the Reform Treaty in the Portuguese capital Lisbon, and the document is now being referred to as the Lisbon Treaty. On behalf of Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski signed the treaty, while President Lech Kaczyński headed the Polish delegation.

"This is a successful day for Poland," Kaczyński said in Lisbon, adding that there would be no problem in ratifying the treaty in the Polish parliament. He also said that the treaty was "incomparably better" than the draft European constitution, which it replaced.

Tusk said, "I am thrilled. It is a very important day for Poland." He added that Dec. 13 was a symbolic date for his generation because it marked the anniversary of the 1981 imposition of martial law in Poland.

Sikorski said the EU would be a "more democratic and coherent" bloc now that the treaty has been adopted. He added that the signing of the treaty was as important a development for Poland as its entry to NATO on March 12, 1999.

Sejm Speaker Bronisław Komorowski said Poland should ratify the treaty as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which codifies the rights of EU citizens, "as soon as possible."

"There is the majority needed to ratify the treaty in Poland's new parliament," Komorowski said. "I think this would be a symbolic gesture confirming our will as a nation to be a leader in European integration."

At the start of the ceremony at the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said the treaty established a "European Union enlarged to 27 member states united again around freedom and democracy." President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering called the treaty an "excellent birthday present" for Europe. "We have finally managed to fulfill the dream of the EU's founding fathers-to create a united Europe with good foundations for a common and secure future," Poettering said.

The Lisbon Treaty, adopted Oct. 19 after three months of difficult negotiations, replaced the draft EU constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands. Compared with the Treaty of Nice, which is now in force, the Lisbon Treaty streamlines EU institutions by introducing a new decision-making system. It limits the principle of unanimity and removes national veto powers with the exception of the most important foreign, defense and tax policy issues as well as decisions to enlarge the EU.

The outcome of the EU meeting in Lisbon met with enthusiastic comments in Moscow. Russian politicians said on the evening of Dec. 13 that "it was in the interest of the EU and all its partners to limit veto powers, which have been used to excess by Poland recently."

Under the treaty, the EU will acquire a legal status, while the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which codifies the rights of EU citizens, will become legally binding. But Poland and Britain adopted the charter along with the so-called British Protocol that limits the charter's effect. Britain feared that the charter would give too much freedom to trade unions. Poland, on its part, had reservations regarding issues related to the right to life. According to many Polish politicians, the charter does not provide a sufficiently clear definition of the right to life, which means that important moral questions-such as whether citizens have the right to euthanasia and abortion-remain unresolved. Poland also had its reservations with regard to the problem of possible German claims to territories allocated to Poland by the Allies in 1945 after the defeat of the Third Reich in World War II. The treaty reduces the number of EU commissioners to 18 and introduces the position of the EU high representative for foreign affairs and EU president elected for two and a half years.

The treaty drops all reference to EU symbols such as the flag and the anthem. It says that the EU is based on Europe's cultural, humanistic and religious heritage, however without pointing to any specific faith, something that has been opposed by many Polish conservative and Catholic circles, particularly within the former governing parties, Law and Justice (PiS) and the League of Polish Families (LPR). Politicians from the two parties, supported by most leaders of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, have for years demanded that the EU's key document include a reference to Europe's Christian heritage.

All EU countries are expected to ratify the new treaty in 2008 so that it can come into force in 2009, before the next elections to the European Parliament. Ireland is the only country to have decided to hold a referendum on the treaty. The remaining EU countries plan to ratify the treaty in parliament to prevent an upset similar to the one caused by French and Dutch voters two years ago.

After signing the treaty, Kaczyński returned to Poland, while Tusk went to Brussels for a one-day summit at which EU leaders talked about the future of Kosovo and also discussed topics such as immigration, climate change and the Lisbon Strategy. They set up a "reflection group," or a team of politicians and authorities on economic, cultural and other issues whose task is to prepare a report on selected problems related to the future functioning of the EU.
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