Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday kept journalists guessing about the date of the next general election when he said he was planning that the new EU Treaty would be ratified by the Maltese Parliament by June.

Asked by The Times on whether this means he would be leaving the ratification process to a new legislature, Dr Gonzi would only say that "we are planning to ratify it by the middle of the year". He was addressing a press conference at the end of a mini-EU summit in Brussels.

Although there shouldn't be any major problem to conclude Malta's ratification during 2008, as the treaty has to be in place in all the 27 member states by the beginning of 2009, this may be entwined with the election process.

The next election has to be held by August at the latest, although all indications show that the Prime Minister will blow the whistle before.

The EU mini-summit yesterday, overshadowed by the historic signing of the Lisbon Treaty in Portugal on Thursday, dealt with an array of subjects ranging from the situation in Kosovo and Iran to globalisation and migration.

Looking immediately to the post-Lisbon Treaty, EU leaders agreed to accept a proposal, made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to nominate a group of EU "wise man" to discuss a way forward for the EU in 20-25 years' time.

To be known as the Reflection Group, it will consist of up to 12 members to be headed by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales and will deal with long-term issues for the EU, such as strengthening and modernising the European model of economic success and social responsibility, the rule of law, sustainable development, global security, migration, energy and climate change and the fight against international crime and terrorism, as well as reaching out to citizens.

However, the group will not deal with the issue of Europe's borders, including the delicate question of Turkey's accession, as envisaged by Mr Sarkozy.

Dr Gonzi said the idea of the Reflection Group shows that the EU is in motion.

"Just a day after the signing of the historic treaty we are already showing that the EU is alive and kicking," he said.

EU leaders also approved a declaration on globalisation setting out how the Union will tackle future economic, social, environmental, energy and security challenges.

On climate change and energy, EU leaders agreed that the bloc "will deliver" on its "very ambitious commitments" adopted in March this year to boost renewables and slash greenhouse gas emissions.

EU leaders also focused their attention on the evolving situation in the Western Balkans. In a move to stabilise the situation vis-à-vis Kosovo's possible independence from Serbia, the EU promised Serbia it will be ready to start considering it as a candidate country as soon as it meets the necessary criteria.

The EU encouraged Serbia to accelerate its pace of reforms in order to sign an association agreement with the EU as soon as possible.

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