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Last updated: October 29, 2009 8:56 pm

Czechs given opt-out to spur Lisbon deal

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European Union leaders on Thursday clinched the deal needed to ensure ratification of their Lisbon reform treaty, but the prospects for a climate change financing accord were less rosy.

Jan Fischer, the Czech prime minister, told leaders of the 27-nation bloc at summit talks in Brussels that Václav Klaus, the Eurosceptic Czech president, would sign the Lisbon treaty in return for an opt-out from its charter of fundamental rights.

“The leaders have agreed the Czech opt-out. All the leaders applauded and cheered,” a diplomat from Sweden, which has been negotiating the opt-out on behalf of the EU, told Reuters.

If, as seems certain, Mr Klaus lifts his objections and the Czech constitutional court approves the treaty in a ruling on Tuesday, the arduous, eight-year effort to modernise the EU’s institutions and decision-making procedures will be over.

“I strongly believe that we will come to the result we all want, which is a valid Lisbon treaty from the beginning of next year,” Mr Fischer had said as he arrived.

Diplomats said a few leaders, such as Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, had been so suspicious of Mr Klaus that they wanted cast-iron assurances from the Czech president that he would not seek some new excuse to obstruct the Lisbon treaty. “He wants Klaus to sign in blood,” one diplomat said.

But Sweden, holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, said the opt-out – akin to exemptions granted to Poland and the UK – would do the trick.

EU officials said the struggle to pass Lisbon had been so bruising it would be many years before even politicians enthusiastic about closer European integration revisited EU treaty reform.

The next steps for EU leaders will be to appoint their first full-time president and new foreign policy chief and to install the new European Commission.

José Manuel Barroso, Commission president, wants to delay distributing the portfolios at his disposal until the foreign policy chief is named.

With each country entitled to one Commission seat and the foreign policy supremo serving as Commission vice-president, the country that gets the foreign policy job will lose out on other desirable posts, notably the big economic portfolios – competition, internal market and trade.

EU leaders hope the European parliament will start hearings into the nominated commissioners in November, so the new Commission can start work on January 1.

Governments know that the parliament is likely to resist some appointments, as in 2004, when it forced the withdrawal of Italy’s Rocco Buttiglione as justice commissioner on account of his conservative views on women and homosexuality.

The most divisive summit issue is how to fund a global climate change accord. Germany is unwilling to specify how much the EU is ready to offer developing countries, and nine other states are reluctant to contribute too much.

“The burden-sharing proposal is not acceptable in its present form,” said Gordon Bajnai, Hungary’s prime minister.

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