EU leaders have been meeting for key talks in Brussels to discuss the controversial Lisbon Treaty. They also showed their support for the re-election of Jose Manuel Barroso as European Commision chief.
EU leaders are seeking to keep the Lisbon Treaty afloat
Support for the re-election of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso materialized on Thursday as EU leaders gathered for a formal nomination for the post.
Barroso, at the helm of the European Union since 2004, stands unopposed for a second term, with a number of EU leaders advocating his leadership at a time of economic turmoil.
"We need leadership for Europe," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who is set to take over the rotating EU presidency in July.
Merkel has also put in her word for Barroso
"This is not the time to pull the brakes. It should be a clear signal that Barroso has the support of the heads of state and governments."
Barroso has already written to European leaders promising a more active role by the EU during the ongoing financial crisis if he receives a second term.
"We need more, not less Europe. We need Europe to focus on where it can add real value. This is what our citizens expect from us," Barroso said in the letter.
If approved by EU leaders, the nomination would then go to the European Parliament for final approval. Some parliament members, including the head of the Socialist group, Martin Schulz, have vowed to oppose Barroso, but he is believed to have the backing of the majority parties in the legislature.
Leaders are also re-examining the Lisbon Treaty at the summit, and it was expected that the delegates would agree on a number of legal guarantees to persuade Ireland to back the treaty, despite the clear 'no' vote from the Irish constituency last year.
Ireland is preparing to hold another referendum on the treaty later this year.
European Minister Stefan Fuele, who directs the negotiations for the Czech EU presidency, is hoping for an agreement in Brussels.
"The guarantees need to be robust enough to dispel all the concerns the Irish citizens expressed in the referendum," he said.
Irish voters threw a spanner in the works last year
Earlier this week, Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin said he was confident that Ireland's wishes would be respected. The government wants commitments on issues such as abortion, taxation, and Ireland's military neutrality.
Irish voters face a second referendum in September or October, and while opinion polls show the economic crisis has made them more EU-friendly, the Irish government wants to maximise the chances of a 'yes' vote.
Therefore, Dublin has been straining every sinew to obtain legally binding guarantees to assuage fears that the treaty would threaten its key national issues.
Those guarantees will be provided at the summit via a legally binding "decision" by the European leaders, diplomats said Wednesday.
However, Britain has led opposition to Dublin's request for what Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin called a "copper-plated" guarantee - a full "protocol" which would have to be ratified by all 27 member states.
Such a tactic, London and others argue, could reopen the whole issue of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
On Wednesday, Euro sceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus reheated the debate by stating that his country's parliament must in any case ratify the Irish guarantees, or he would not approve them.
Klaus, a fierce opponent of the treaty, said in a letter to Prime Minister Jan Fischer that the guarantees constituted a separate pact which required parliamentary ratification under the Czech constitution.
Klaus has not yet signed off on the treaty, while Poland and Germany must also finish the process.
However, Ireland remains the focus, as it is the only EU nation constitutionally bound to put the issue to the vote.
Climate change and financial supervision
Europe is also preparing for the UN climate conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year, but sceptics fear that climate concerns will take a backseat in the midst of the economic crisis. There are also concerns that the EU could remain divided on how to tackle climate change, diminishing its influence in Copenhagen.
EU leaders are also set to approve tighter rules for supervising the banking industry, including the creation of three pan-European watchdogs and a European Systemic Risk Board that would monitor risks to economic stability.
Editor: Susan Houlton