(AFP) – Dec 13, 2007
LISBON (AFP) — Leaders of the 27-nation European Union signed a landmark treaty Thursday to revitalise EU decision-making, but the new unity was marred by the absence of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"History will remember this day as a day when new paths of hope were opened to the European ideal," Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said at the elaborate ceremony.
However Brown's failure to attend the celebration -- a week after boycotting an EU-Africa summit -- led to accusations in Britain and Lisbon of a luke-warm attitude to Europe.
"We've all got problems to deal with. I personally think that we need Britain in Europe," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters after signing at the Jeronimos Monastery.
"We need Gordon," he added in English, after British Foreign Minister David Miliband signed the treaty for his government, while the other 26 nations were represented by heads of state or government plus foreign ministers.
Brown arrived in Lisbon later Thursday afternoon to add his signature, having spent the morning appearing before a parliamentary committee in London.
Socrates insisted that the treaty -- which replaces a draft EU constitution scuppered by French and Dutch referendums in 2005 -- poses no threat to the national sovereignty of member states.
"The European project does not eliminate nor minimise national identities," he said. "It offers a multilateral framework of regulation from which benefits can be drawn for the whole and for each of the parts that participate in the project."
The treaty must yet be ratified in each EU member state before it can come into effect, as planned, in 2009.
Only Ireland is constitutionally bound to hold the kind of national referendum which doomed the constitution in 2005 and sparked the EU's worst ever crisis.
EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said the Treaty of Lisbon "will reinforce the Union's capacity to act and the ability to achieve those goals in an effective way. As such, it will help the Union to deliver better results to European citizens."
The text was agreed in October after long and often heated negotiations between supporters and opponents of closer integration.
EU leaders, who move on to a summit in Brussels on Friday, deem it vital to streamline the functioning of the bloc, which has grown from 15 to 27 nations since 2004 while pushing deep into the former Soviet bloc.
Like the rejected constitution, it proposes a European foreign policy supremo and a permanent president to replace the cumbersome six-month rotating presidency system.
It cuts the size of the European Parliament and the number of EU decisions which require unanimous support, hence reducing national vetoes.
It also includes a European charter of fundamental human and legal rights, which Britain and Poland have refused to make binding.
However it drops all references to an EU flag or anthem, to assuage eurosceptic fears of another step towards a federal Europe.
Many governments, including France and the Netherlands, have said they will not hold national referendums to ratify the treaty. Opponents deem the treaty to be largely the same as the constitution and want national votes.
The absence of Brown from the signing ceremony was condemned by critics as a cowardly attempt to distance himself from the EU pact, widely unpopular in Britain.
"There is no better manifestation of his lack of interest in Europe than his thinking that missing the signature would not be a big deal," said Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank.
Brown rejected the charges. "I think you'll find on the debate about global Europe, we are leading the way," he said in The Times newspaper.
In order to avoid a referendum, the British government was granted key opt-outs on foreign policy, labour rights, the common law and tax and social security systems.
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