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EU Leaders Adopt Reforms to Strengthen Bloc


European Union leaders are adopting a groundbreaking treaty in Lisbon aimed to streamline and grant more powers to the 27-member institution. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports the document is the result of a lengthy and difficult process.

The new European Union treaty includes plans for a European foreign affairs chief and a more permanent president than the current system, in which the presidency shifts from member country to country every six months. It also aims to streamline the body, by cutting the size of the European Parliament and the number of EU decisions that would require unanimous vote.

In general, it aims to give the European Union a more effective foreign policy, stronger leadership, and more democratic decision making.

But it is a lot less ambitious than a charter the bloc tried to ratify in 2005. French and Dutch voters rejected the document, blocking its adoption.

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering was among many European politicians to hail the new treaty, saying it underscored the bloc's enormous transformation over the years. He talked about the changes he had personally witnessed since joining the European Parliament in 1979.

"In 1979, the European parliament had zero," he said, "no legislative power, and already now, before the reform treaty comes into force we are [handling] about 75 percent of European legislation. And with the reform treaty it increases, this co-decision increases, to 100 percent. This is more democracy, this is more parliamentarism and this gives us more the possibility to defend the beliefs, the rights and the ambitions of the citizens of the European Union."

Pottering also hailed a new charter of fundamental rights for European citizens that comes with the treaty, although not all EU members are signing on to this attachment.

Most EU governments say a referendum is not necessary to ratify the document - opting for a vote in parliament instead. Only Ireland is constitutionally bound to vote on it. That will make the chances of scuttling this EU treaty much less likely.