EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU's new set of institutional rules may come into force in just over a month, ending a marathon stretch of treaty-making that took eight years, included four referendums and resulted in an ungainly text littered with footnotes, protocols and opt-outs.
"The Lisbon Treaty will enter into force doubtless as early as December 1," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after a summit of EU leaders on Friday (30 October).
The breakthrough came after member states managed to agree to a last-minute demand by Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
The deal - exempting Prague from a rights charter in the treaty - paves the way for Mr Klaus to sign the pact, a move that will allow it to go into force across the 27 member states of the European Union.
The Czech president can only sign after 3 November, the day when the Czech constitutional court is due to give its verdict on whether Lisbon is compatible with national law. The ruling is widely expected to come out in favour of the treaty, with a similar - though narrower - case also going the treaty's way last year.
Once the treaty-opposing Czech president puts pen to paper - and EU leaders remain wary of his unpredictability - the race to fill the posts created by the treaty will begin in earnest. The president of the European Council and the foreign minister - two new jobs - as well as the line up of the next European Commission are set to be decided at an extraordinary summit in November.
Shrugs and speculation
The new posts have been the subject of frenzied speculation in the media in the run-up to the October summit and in the corridors during the summit itself.
Although there is an impatience to move ahead with nominations, EU leaders effectively agreed to gag themselves until the Czech situation is clear.
But heavy hints, eloquent shrugs and pregnant silences by leaders over the last two days would appear to indicate that the post of foreign minister should go to a socialist and that British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, long talked about as the first possible EU president, will not get the job.
For his part, Mr Sarkozy said he was in "agreement" with his German counterpart Angela Merkel that they would "have the same vision and support the same candidate" for the presidency post.
The two countries acting together are likely to determine whether the job will be largely administrative or carry real international clout.
But even if the date line for the treaty appears to be clearer, things are less certain for the European Commission, whose current mandate runs out on 31 October. From 1 November onwards it will have caretaker status, only able to execute day-to-day affairs.
The new commission is unlikely to be put into place before January next year, as each commissioner will be subject to a hearing in parliament to assess their suitability for the post. It is not out of the question that there will be controversy over one or other candidate, which could delay the process. Once this procedure is finished, the entire college needs to be approved by parliament in a plenary session.
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