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EU executive to stay as caretaker amid treaty malaise

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Union's powerful executive body is to stay on in a caretaker role until the future of the Lisbon reform treaty is resolved, a spokesman said Friday, a fortnight before its mandate ends.

However the European Commission, which draws up legislation that impacts on the lives of about half a billion Europeans and polices the application of EU laws, is likely to remain a lame duck until the future becomes clearer.

"It is clear that from November 1, the situation of the commission will be a situation of managing current business," the chief spokesman for the EU's executive arm, Johannes Laitenberger, told reporters.

The EU wants to play a major role at climate talks in Copenhagen and is working on ways to mitigate fallout from the economic crisis, but the Lisbon Treaty stalemate has reduced it to a new bout of institutional navel-gazing.

The treaty, meant to streamline the way the expanding EU makes its decisions and create new posts, is being blocked by eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who opposes the text and has delayed signing it.

When asked what work the commission would actually be able to do in the interim, Laitenberger said: "We will take care of everything that has to be taken care of."

"The commission can and must do what is necessary. So, that is what is going to happen," he said, adding that Brussels would examine carefully whether it is "necessary" to perform any task.

The impasse means that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who was last month granted a second five year term, is unable to nominate a new commission, because it is unclear what legal basis he should use.

Barroso, who has shown great frustration at Klaus's tactics, "has often underlined that this is not a desirable situation. It is a situation that is exceptional and must by definition be as short as possible," Laitenberger said.

As president of the European Union executive, Barroso has significant leverage to influence the legislative priorities of the commission which next year will have a budget of 138 billion euros (206 billion dollars).

Popular opinion of the EU remains low, with many citizens claiming not to know what the 27-nation bloc does as well as feeling distanced from the political elite in Brussels.

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