by Paul Ames
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will likely be confirmed for a second term this week, but the EU's institutional imbroglio is set to drag on well into the fall.
After months of uncertainty as Barroso struggled to secure sufficient support for a second term, the former Portuguese prime minister was expected to win a majority when the EU Assembly votes on Wednesday.
Christian Democrats, Liberals and the main euroskeptic Conservative group were all expected to back Barroso. He could also pick up votes from some dissident Socialists, the far-left, and Green factions.
The expected narrow margin of Barroao'a victory and lukewarm support from some European leaders suggest he may be hard pressed to stamp his authority on some European Union (EU) policies during his second term.
Once in, Barroso will not have to wait long for the decisive moment of his new term.
Irish voters return to the polls on Oct. 2 to decide the fate of the Lisbon Treaty, which is designed to streamline the workings of the union and give it a stronger voice in world affairs.
If the Irish again vote against the treaty they first rejected in June 2008, the EU will plunge into another crisis and be forced to limp along under its current rule book -- the Nice Treaty which dates from 2001. Many believe that treaty is unworkable given the subsequent expansion of the union from 15 to 27 members.
The latest opinion polls show the "yes" camp ahead in Ireland, but their lead is narrowing and the vote could be another cliff-hanger for the EU.
Even given a positive decision from Dublin, the treaty may not be out of the woods. Euro skeptic heads of state in Poland and the Czech Republic have so far refused to sign ratification documents for the treaty despite their parliaments' support for the agreement.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has indicated he will approve the treaty if the Irish vote "yes," but his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus is a staunch opponent of closer EU integration and could still seek to derail the passage of the charter, even at the risk of his country's isolation within the EU.
Some fear Klaus could seek to defer Czech ratification until after British elections early next year that are expected to return the Conservative Party to power.
The Conservatives are strongly opposed to the Lisbon Treaty, claiming it hands more control from London to EU headquarters in Brussels.
Although Britain has already ratified Lisbon, euro skeptics hope a Tory government could re-open the process of checking the treaty if Klaus' delaying tactics prevent the treaty from coming into force before the Conservatives come into power. If the Conservatives manage to call a referendum, the treaty is almost certain to fail in Britain.
An Irish "no" vote next month would definitely kill the treaty.
If Lisbon fails, it would be a severe blow to the EU's ambitions to work as a more cohesive force in world affairs. One result will likely be the revival of proposals for a "multi-speed Europe" where core EU nations would move ahead with closer integration excluding those on the political periphery.
To a certain extent this already happens with EU policies, such as the euro currency bloc, which Britain, Sweden and Denmark refuse to join; or the Schengen Agreement on passport-free travel zone, where Britain and Ireland have opted out.
Without Lisbon, France and Germany would likely lead a group of pro-integration nations in other fields, leaving reluctant partners on the sidelines.
The rejection of Lisbon is also likely to halt or delay any further enlargement of the EU. Although Croatia could squeeze in because its membership plans are already well advanced _ and an exception would likely be made for Iceland _ Balkan nations such as Albania, Serbia and Bosnia could be left in the cold alongside bigger EU hopefuls like Turkey or Ukraine.
Without Lisbon, Barroso's mandate over the next five years will probably be full-time crisis management. With the treaty, he will have to oversee its implementation, including the creation of a new position that would challenge his role as the public face of the EU.
The Lisbon Treaty foresees the appointment of a permanent president of the powerful, policy setting European Council, which is comprised of leaders of all EU nations.
Currently the presidency rotates among the EU leaders every six months -- Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt holds it until Dec. 31, when Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero takes over.
That system has inbuilt weaknesses. A frequent change at the top leads to a lack of continuity in the EU's approach. Smaller EU nations can struggle to find the resources to manage the presidency but their leaders sometimes lack the gravitas to represent a union of 500 million people.
When the Georgia war erupted in August last year, closely followed by the international banking crisis, France was in the EU hot seat. President Nicolas Sarkozy was able to engage directly with his Russian and U.S. counterparts to stop the fighting and shape efforts to stabilize the economy. It's not certain the Slovene and Czech prime ministers who preceded and followed him would have been able to wield the same influence.
EU leaders might be expected to pick an EC president with sufficient stature to fly the European flag on the world stage at a time of change in international affairs with the growing influence of China, India and other emerging powers.
However, national leaders may be wary of choosing a genuine high-profile figure for fear of taking influence away from their own roles.
Should the Irish vote yes on Lisbon, EU leaders could pick their new president at a summit in Brussels on Oct. 29-30. Speculation about who may get the new post is rife, with names such as former prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain, and Felipe Gonzalez of Spain, current Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker, or Chris Patten, Britain's last Hong Kong governor, have all been mentioned as possible contenders.
The Lisbon Treaty will also boost the power of the EU's foreign policy representatives, give more power to the European Parliament and revise voting power among EU nations to make it harder for individual nations or small groups to block legislation.