Merkel says 'reform treaty' will strengthen union


GERMANY:German chancellor Angela Merkel has said the "reform treaty" agreed at the weekend would strengthen the European Union and show the way forward for the EU.

"At the end of the day we did not disappoint people's expectations and we avoided a division," said Ms Merkel in a speech on the treaty at the European Parliament. "Europe can once again look forward to a period of strength and confidence."

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso also lauded the result of the summit, describing it as an outstanding success for Europe. "We started from a division between 18 member states that had ratified the constitutional treaty and nine member states that had not ratified. We have now all 27 member states united around a common mandate for a reform treaty," he said.

Mr Barroso dismissed claims that the deletion of a reference to "free and fair competition" from the objectives in the union had undermined the single market.

"The protocols on services of general interest and on internal market and competition, both proposed by the commission, guarantee a fair and undistorted functioning of the single market, while respecting legitimate concerns of some member states."

French president Nicolas Sarkozy achieved a political coup at the summit by having the reference to competition in the objectives deleted. He believes one of the reasons the French rejected the EU constitution was that the union was seen as too liberal.

The deletion has raised fears in some states, particularly Britain and the Netherlands, that it could undermine the single market and enable states to bail out uncompetitive firms.

Mr Barroso warned against the creation of a "perverse alliance" between those who resist a political Europe and those who oppose the single market.

"To those who support an open and a global Europe, I say that they will only get it if they support political integration. Without political power, Europe will never influence globalisation," he said.

Graham Watson, head of the Liberal group, welcomed the agreement but said it had come at a price. "Eurosceptics were rewarded proportionally to their negativity, with derogations, deletions and opt-outs. In return, the friends of the constitution received precious little for their support for a text signed by all 27 member states," he said.

But the enthusiasm for the agreement was not universal, and the Green group in the parliament strongly criticised Britain's opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights.

Co-leader of the Green Party Daniel Cohn-Bendit said the Greens would mount a campaign.