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Leaders to agree draft EU reform treaty

THE Taoiseach and European leaders are expected to finally agree a draft EU reform treaty in Lisbon today.

The new document, replacing the ill-fated EU Constitution that was agreed in Dublin in 2004 but shot down by French and Dutch electorates, will be the subject of a referendum here next year.

All but the final ribbons on the treaty have been agreed following an intensive level of shuttle diplomacy over the last number of months.

Last week Ireland followed Britain by opting out of a number of "red line" or unacceptable issues -- excluding qualified majority voting (QMV) from applying to this country on justice and home affairs issues.

The Government says the move was necessary because of the common travel area with Britain and the close similarities between the legal systems in these islands.

It maintains that the reform treaty keeps the main provisions agreed by the 25 EU States after the Enlargement party in Dublin in May 2004. Two more member states have joined since, and the EU needs majority voting in order to avoid hopeless wrangles in processing agreed positions.

Yesterday, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny -- who shadowed Mr Ahern to Brussels in order to take in a meeting of the European People's Party (EPP), the Fine Gael bloc in the European parliament -- claimed Ireland's following of British opt-outs had come as a "great surprise" to many other countries.

"This will do us down in the eyes of Europe," he predicted. But support for the Taoiseach came from Sinn Fein, with MEP Mary Lou McDonald saying justice affairs should remain solely under the competence of member states. The Government had made the right decision, she said.

The new treaty will also provide for a new President of the European Council, which could provide a job for the Taoiseach if he wants it -- although he rejected an offer to draft him for the post now occupied by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The deal will also create a new European Foreign Minister, a post that seems tailor-made for special envoy Javier Solana.

The Taoiseach is accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, and by Minister of State for European Affairs, Dick Roche.

The informal council is due to address Europe's response to globalisation and the recent instability in the financial markets, as well as the international response to climate change.