After years of wrangling and setbacks European leaders gathered in Lisbon Thursday to sign the new European treaty. The heads of government signed the Lisbon Treaty during a two-hour ceremony at the Jeronimos Monastery, attended by 26 of the 27 heads of government.
The treaty has replaced the scuppered European Constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The EU leaders have spent the last two years scrambling to agree on a scaled down treaty that is designed to make the administration of the bloc easier by streamlining many functions. It is also hoped this will allow the EU to act with more unity on global issues. The new treaty, the details of which were agreed in October, replaces the system of rotating six-month presidencies with a president who will serve a two-year term. There will also be a stronger foreign policy chief.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the new treaty would allow Europe to prepare itself to address global problems. "Now it is time to move ahead," he said in his speech in Lisbon. "Europe must tackle numerous challenges, both at home and abroad, and our citizens want results. Globalization is the common denominator of all those challenges."
By presenting the new agreement as less than a constitution, many European governments have been able to argue that it does not need to be presented to the electorates in referenda. Although the treaty will have to be ratified by all the member states, it will be voted on in the national parliaments. Ireland is the only member state that is obliged by its own constitution to hold a referendum.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been sharply criticized for not holding a referendum in the United Kingdom. The country is one of the most Euro-skeptic in the bloc and would be unlikely to approve anything that smacks of a loss of sovereignty. In what has been derided as a somewhat empty gesture, Brown has refused to attend today's ceremony and will sign the treaty later at a private lunch instead.
The leaders then fly to Brussels for a meeting and environmentalists have questioned the need for the leaders to fly to Lisbon in the first place. However, the leaders are compromising by sharing planes, and Portugal, current EU president, is to plant trees in two national parks to compensate for the CO2 emissions related to today's event.