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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
EU gets first look at new treaty
By Stephen Mulvey
EU reporter, BBC News

A treaty born out of the European constitution has come closer to realisation with the unveiling of a first draft of the text.

Dutch Vote No poster
Dutch and French voters rejected the constitution in 2005
The step was taken at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, who launched a three-month inter-governmental conference (IGC) to decide the precise wording.

The son of the constitution, christened the Reform Treaty, seems certain to be a lot longer than the 16-page mandate for the IGC agreed at an EU summit last month - but shorter than its 480-page mother text.

The first draft has weighed in at 145 pages, with an extra 132 pages of added protocols and declarations.

Its length is likely to be taken by British Eurosceptics - who want a referendum on the new treaty - as another sign that it is basically a rehash of the constitution, on which they were promised a vote three years ago.

Footnotes

But another yardstick is readability.

They decided that the document should be unreadable - if it is unreadable, it is not constitutional, that was the sort of perception
Former Italian Foreign Minister Giuliano Amato

While the constitution was intended to be a reader-friendly document that could be taught in schools, the Reform Treaty is going to reel off a new mass of revisions to two already unreadable treaties.

Traditionally, unreadable EU treaties have not been subjected to a referendum, except in Ireland - though France and Denmark made an exception for the Maastricht treaty.

This one seems set to be even more clumsy than usual with its protocols, declarations and footnotes.

"They decided that the document should be unreadable. If it is unreadable, it is not constitutional, that was the sort of perception," former Italian Foreign Minister Giuliano Amato told a conference in London this month.

"Any prime minister - imagine the UK prime minister - can go to the Commons and say, 'Look, you see, it's absolutely unreadable, it's the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum.'"

Polish friction

Most observers seem to agree that the IGC is likely to be a technical exercise, not an occasion for big political debates.

They have had enough of the Poles - this message will be brought home very clearly at the IGC
Marco Incerti, Centre for European Policy Studies
The June summit in Brussels tried to ensure this by specifying the content of the new treaty in great detail, right down to precise language in some areas.

True, Poland has warned that it wants to re-open a late-night deal struck in Brussels on the system that will be used when member states vote on legislation, but the other 26 countries are expected to join forces to knock that idea firmly on the head.

"They have had enough of the Poles. This message will be brought home very clearly at the IGC," says Marco Incerti, an expert at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

In theory, Poland can hold the whole process up, even in a minority of one, but Mr Incerti regards this as unlikely.

Bigger hurdle

British Labour MEP Richard Corbett agrees. In his view, the IGC will be driven along at a sharp pace by the "overwhelming desire to settle these questions of the mechanics of the EU" that have bedevilled the union for the last seven years.

Both expect the conference to wind up on time at a summit in Portugal in October, allowing the Reform Treaty to be known to future generations as the Lisbon Treaty.

Marco Incerti sees ratification as a much bigger hurdle.

There is still a possibility that some countries, not only Ireland, will subject the big-but-unreadable treaty to a referendum, and then anything could happen, as it did in France and the Netherlands in 2005.


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