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EU leaders sign bloc’s new treaty, give go-ahead for a European president

    LISBON, Portugal — European Union leaders signed a new treaty on Thursday that would give the 27-nation bloc a long-term president and streamline its decision-making process.
    The treaty changes the way the bloc is run, with member states surrendering more powers to centralized rule in Brussels, Belgium after years of resisting encroachment on their sovereign powers. The intention is to enable a swifter response to global issues.
    Among the treaty’s provisions is the appointment of an EU president who can speak in the bloc’s name, which should end the old American gripe of ‘‘who do you call when you want to speak to Europe?’’
    The so-called Lisbon Treaty, said by leaders to be a milestone in the history of the post-World War II bloc, will come into force after it is ratified by all member states. The aim is to complete that process by 2009.
    Providing for a new European boss who will serve a five-year term will allow the EU to scrap the current and often confusing system in which EU countries take turns at holding the presidency for six months at a time.
    Such senior posts usually go to seasoned European politicians who have international stature. Already mentioned are former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, currently a Mideast envoy, and Danish Premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
    None of the possible candidates has so far voiced interest in the job, which could be a poisoned chalice.
    Candidates must win the approval of 27 countries that at times have different concerns — which is reflected in the fact that the treaty was written in the bloc’s 23 official languages used by EU citizens from the Atlantic coast of Portugal to Ukraine’s border with Russia.
    A president would need the backing of all EU leaders, suggesting that if there is no initial agreement, a successful candidate could turn out to be a compromise.
    Choosing a public figure will not be made any easier by the vague description written into the treaty. It says merely that the future president must ‘‘respect the EU’s geographic and demographic diversity’’ and work to achieve consensus.
    A president would also have to tread carefully to avoid straining relations with EU governments. Similar problems face a planned senior foreign policy official who will wield more power than current EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
    Although the new treaty gives more powers to the European Parliament and the European Commission — the Brussels-based executive — leaders are wary of public unease about yielding sovereignty.
    Plans for a more ambitious European Constitution, featuring a European anthem and flag, were scrapped two years ago after voters in France and the Netherlands refused to endorse the plan, igniting a political crisis.
    The treaty alters the EU’s decision-making setup. More decisions are to be taken by majority vote, removing the need for unanimous endorsement, which in the past has stymied the bloc’s efforts to present a united front.
    ‘‘By resolving its institutional matters, Europe is readying itself to address global problems,’’ European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
    The leaders’ refusal to ask their citizens what they think about the treaty has brought broad protests. Only one country — Ireland — plans a referendum. The 26 others say they will ratify the document in their parliaments.
    The treaty’s detractors claim EU governments dare not put the document to a vote because they fear a majority of their people do not want it.

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