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EU Reform Treaty: mission yet to be accomplished
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After hours of negotiation, European Union (EU) leaders reached agreement early Friday on the text of a historic treaty which is expected to breathe new life into the increasingly cumbersome and inefficient EU machine.


The treaty seeks to overhaul the 27-nation bloc's institutional structure and simplifies its decision-making process. Thursday's agreement put six years of debate to a close and ended two years of constitutional crisis -- nothing short of a remarkable achievement for all the EU leaders.


It is a specially proud moment for the bloc's German and Portuguese presidencies, which pulled out all stops to help put together this document and get consensus out of a habitually brawling EU governments.


However, some questions still remain as to the treaty's ratification and enforcement. Will the treaty be cleared by all member states? Is it a cure-all for all the EU's "evils"? Will there be a smooth implementation?


The Reform Treaty's predecessor, the constitutional treaty, was once touted as an epoch-setting document in the EU history. However, it was voted down in the 2005 referenda in France and the Netherlands, two founding members of the EU.


This forced EU governments into a two-year reflection period. The ambitious EU integration train came to a virtual standstill.


Learning from that, EU leaders are at pains to avoid the scenario where a referendum will be held to decide on the new treaty's fate.


The word "constitution" and any other reference to EU symbols were dropped from the treaty, and the document was turned from an all-compassing treaty to a modest amending one.


EU leaders hoped this would enable the text to be reviewed by national parliaments, which has a much bigger chance of granting the permission.


Among the original 25 EU nations, 18 have given the green light to the constitutional treaty, two vetoed and five countries -- Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Britain -- have yet to start the ratification process.


It is almost certain that the 18 pro-constitution member states will again support the new treaty. Citizens in Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, also have little problem with the pact, so do the Irish people.


France has announced that the treaty will be ratified through parliamentary voting, thanks to the efforts of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Dutch government also decided that legislators rather than citizens should vote on the manuscript.


Among the remaining four countries, Britain is the most reluctant to relinquish national sovereignty and Euro-skeptical. In the new treaty it has sought guarantees of opt-outs in many policy areas.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made it abundantly clear that the country's "red lines" on social rights, justice cooperation and human rights are too sacred to be breached.


While the fate of the treaty at the hands of Britons remains unclear, the ratification results in the other three countries -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark -- are also hard to predict.


According to a survey published by British press Thursday, 70 percent of the citizens in the five big EU countries -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- all want the new treaty to be approved by the whole population. This cast fresh doubts on the next move of the national governments concerned.


If the Reform Treaty is rejected, once again, by any of the 27 member states, what will happen? This is a scenario many people are too scared to think about.


The intention of formulating the Reform Treaty is to ensure the EU's smooth functioning and enhancing European integration. But is the pact a magic solution to all the EU's problems? Will the treaty confer on the EU the power to deliver?


What the EU public care most about is the state of economy. They judge the capability of the governments from job opportunities and other benefits which they can get out of the economy. In the past few years, the EU continued to lag behind the United States and Japan in economic growth rate, which has become one of the biggest challenges to EU leaders.


The EU also moves slowly in reforming its social welfare system and increasing the flexibility of labor market. Meanwhile, an aging population poses an even bigger pressure on the public budget of EU governments.


When the dust surrounding the constitutional wrangling settles, EU governments need to take good care of the basic issues concerning people's daily life. The Reform Treaty can be meaningful only when it brings benefits to people's well-being.


This is indeed what the Reform Treaty is meant for.


(Xinhua News Agency October 19, 2007)

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