EU draft treaty completed but issues remain

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BRUSSELS, Oct 2 (Reuters) Legal experts provisionally agreed today on a final draft treaty to reform the European Union's institutions, due to be concluded at a summit in mid-October, the Portuguese EU presidency said today.

EU leaders negotiated the political mandate in June but handed Portugual the tricky task of steering its transposition into treaty language and tying up loose ends.

The treaty, meant to replace an EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, provides for a long-term EU president, a stronger foreign policy chief, a more democratic voting system and more say for national and European parliaments.

Diplomats said there were still also outstanding issues with Poland, but the presidency believed those would only be solved when President Lech Kaczynski attends an October 18-19 EU summit.

''Of course there are some specificities coming from the Polish and British positions, but I think in the end we can accommodate those,'' European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters after discussing the treaty with European Parliament leaders.

''We prefer to have what we call opt-outs than to have a lowering of the treaty,'' he added, rebuffing critics among the lawmakers who object to Britain and Poland being allowed to opt out of a legally binding EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

OPT-OUTS Britain negotiated a convoluted exemptions from the legal force of the charter, which enshrines broad labour rights that London fears could undermine its trade union laws. Poland wants an opt out to preserve its conservative family law.

An attempt by Britain to restrict the powers of the European Court of Justice over police cooperation delayed the distribution of the final draft by a week, diplomats said.

London sought to deny the ECJ jurisdiction over agreements reached among EU governments outside the bloc's normal procedures, such as the convention creating the Europol police agency, and the Pruem treaty on data-sharing in law enforcement.

Britain is keen to block any extension of the Luxembourg-based court's powers. Portugal's deputy justice minister flew to London specially to discuss the issue with Justice Secretary Jack Straw on Monday.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces strong pressure from the Conservative opposition and Eurosceptical media, as well as from some of his own rank-and-file lawmakers, to hold a referendum on the treaty, which polls suggest he would lose.

The government has ruled out a plebiscite, arguing the treaty is fundamentally different from the constitution, even though most of its key provisions are identical.

Poland's main demand is to incorporate into the treaty an agreement allowing small groups of states short of a blocking minority to delay EU decisions by up to four months.

Other members reject making this so-called Ioannina Compromise a permanent feature of the EU system and want to confine the provision to a political declaration by governments that is not ratified by member states.

Diplomats say Poland is likely to win its other demand for an increase in the number of advocates-general at the ECJ to make room for candidates from new EU member states.


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