November 4, 2009
Lisbon treaty signing leads to new dawn in Europe
David Charter, Europe Correspondent, and Philip Webster, Political Editor
Europe’s elite celebrated the imminent arrival of its first president last night as the last lingering resistance to the Lisbon treaty fell away with the stroke of a pen in Prague.
Gordon Brown and other leaders hailed a new era of expanded powers for the European Union to act on the world stage after the Eurosceptic President of the Czech Republic signed the treaty. The relief across European capitals was palpable as the eight-year journey of an accord that gives Europe a president and a new chief of foreign affairs came to an end.
European leaders wasted no time in starting the process to choose their new president from a range of names including Tony Blair. Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Prime Minister of Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, began a round of telephone diplomacy to determine a shortlist of names.
Last night William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, announced the end of the long Conservative campaign for a referendum on the treaty. David Cameron will try to satisfy his Eurosceptic party today with pledges to try to repatriate powers from Brussels and stop any future treaty going through without a referendum.
There are already signs he will not be able to placate those who accuse him of reneging on a “cast iron” promise. He will argue that because the treaty is now European law there is no treaty left upon which to hold a vote.
Mr Blair’s chances took a knock at last week’s EU summit when smaller countries pleaded for a “chairman not a chief” but neither Downing Street nor his allies believe that the former Prime Minister is yet out of the race.
Mr Reinfeldt echoed the feelings of many EU leaders when he declared that the treaty process had gone on for “far too long” since grand plans for an EU constitution dating back to 2001 were scuppered by referendum defeats in France and the Netherlands. The Lisbon treaty was the brainchild of Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany to revive most of the contents of the constitution but in a form that required a referendum only in the Irish Republic, and even then the first vote was lost in 2008.
“After a long journey, the Treaty of Lisbon has reached the goal,” Mr Reinfeldt said last night. “All EU member states have now ratified the text. The treaty enters into force on December 1 and all the details must now be put into place . . . As soon as possible I will call for an EU summit.”
Mr Brown said that the Czech President’s decision marked “an important and historic step for all of Europe”.