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The leaders of the European Union's 27 member states have converged
The leaders of the European Union's 27 member states have converged on the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, to sign a constitutional treaty and to discuss the possibility of granting independence to Serbia's predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo.

However, these two tasks seem mutually contradictory; one is aimed at bringing the EU nations closer together and the other intended to divide an aspiring member along ethnic lines.

The delegates began by signing the constitutional treaty, the less controversial of the two main issues on the agenda of the current EU summit. The basic agreement, which cost European presidents and officials a lot of nerves and long years of negotiations, is a simplified version of the EU constitutional blueprints drafted from the mid-1990s to 2004. That draft was rejected in a 2005 referendum by the Netherlands and France, despite a former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, having been its main architect. Unlike the draft constitution, the treaty makes no mention of the European Union's flag or anthem.

The text of the new treaty was met with strong opposition from some of the EU member states, including Poland, Italy, the United Kingdom, Austria and Bulgaria. But a compromise was reached at an October 18 summit in Lisbon, which continued well into the night. Giscard d'Estaing described the 250-page accord as "unreadable and incomprehensible." But this is perhaps an overstatement.

It is quite clear, for instance, that the treaty envisages replacing the principle of adopting resolutions through consensus with the double majority principle starting in 2017. That is, for a resolution to pass, it will have to be voted for by 55% of the countries with a combined population of 65% of the EU total. The current consensus principle has allowed Poland to block EU-Russia talks on a new strategic agreement. Under the new system, a resolution could be rejected as well, but only if the number of dissenting votes is close to "a blocking minority."

Another envisaged change is cutting the number of European MPs (to 750, down from the current 785) and EU commissioners. The current model of the rotating EU presidency passing from one member country to the next every six months is to be abolished. Instead, a president will be elected to govern the Union for a term of 2.5 years. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is widely expected to become the first EU president.

Another new EU post to be introduced is that of foreign minister. It will combine two existing positions: the High Commissioner for Foreign Policy and the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy.

The most controversial of the prospective changes is the development of a single European penal code, which will enable law-enforcement agencies of an EU country to carry out operations on the territory of a fellow member.

In addition, the constitutional treaty entitles all EU member countries to withdraw from the Union.

To avoid new surprises, EU residents were barred from adopting the European Constitution. To come into effect, the treaty will have to be ratified by the national legislatures. However, some EU nations, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, want the document put up to a referendum.

With the constitutional treaty signed, the EU leaders will shift the summit venue to Belgium. The future status of Kosovo will top the agenda there. This is a highly divisive issue, with countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania and Slovakia opposed to the idea of the Serbian province being given full sovereignty. Cyprus is the most vehemently opposed to the option, fearing that Kosovo's independence will set a precedent for the Cypriot Turks, who seek international recognition for their self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Shortly after the EU summit, the issue will be taken up by the United Nations. The next UN Security Council session is set for December 19. Consultations are already underway. Moscow has suggested resuming talks on Kosovo's status, provoking a strong negative response from Washington. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said his country would by no means support the Russian motion, as the Kosovo talks had already exhausted themselves and now a decision should be made within the UN Security Council. But if the council fails to achieve consensus, a solution will have to be found elsewhere, the U.S. envoy said. Effectively, this means that Washington is the first to have expressed its readiness to use the right to veto, thereby letting Kosovo's Albanian population decide for themselves.

Almost simultaneously, U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice reiterated her old remark that all possibilities for a compromise had been exhausted and that Russia should face up to reality. She then tried to shift the responsibility for Kosovo onto Europe's shoulders, saying that Kosovo and Serbia should go their separate ways into the future, yet remain united by the prospect of EU membership. But the fact of the matter is that the EU has issued no invitation so far for them to join in. Nor is it likely to do so any time soon...

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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