Sunday, June 15, 2008

Europe stunned by Irish rejection of treaty

Fri Jun 13, 5:44 PM ET

Europe was left reeling Friday by Irish voters' rejection of an EU reform treaty, even as French and German leaders argued it could be kept alive if other members pushed on with ratification.

The result of the Irish referendum was a major blow, with Czech President Vaclav Klaus insisting that the Lisbon Treaty was now "finished" and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker conceding it would at least miss its January 1 target for coming into effect.

Austria said the Irish "no" vote was an unmitigated "failure" for Europe.

"You can't dress it up any other way," said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, while her Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos acknowledged it was "not good news."

Other leaders and senior EU officials refused to sound the death-knell for the treaty, which aimed to create a full-time EU president and foreign policy chief and streamline the workings of the 27-member bloc.

"We take note of the democratic decision of the Irish citizens with all due respect, even though we regret it," French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

Noting that the Lisbon Treaty has already been ratified by 18 EU countries, they said they hoped other member states would "continue the process" -- a call echoed by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.

"As a supporter of the treaty, the European Commission would have hoped for another result. However, we respect the outcome of the referendum," Baroso said, adding that the remaining ratifications should "take their course."

Britain was among those who quickly pledged to move ahead and adopt the treaty.

"It's right that we continue with our own process," said Foreign Secretary David Miliband, shortly after Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said there was no "quick fix" following his country's "no" vote.

Gordon Brown's government had come under strong pressure to offer British voters a referendum on the treaty, but the Lisbon Treaty will proceed towards its third reading in its parliament's upper House of Lords on Wednesday.

"We have to wait to see what the Irish government and the Irish people propose to do as a result of this. We'll need all countries to take a view and then to decide what to do next," Miliband added.

The Netherlands, whose voters helped plunge the bloc into one of its worst crises three years ago by rejecting the treaty's predecessor, the draft constitution, also vowed that it would ratify the text.

But Czech President Klaus argued that it was "no longer possible" to carry on as before. The Czech Republic, which will take over the presidency of the EU in January, is among those that has yet to ratify the treaty.

The current holder of the EU presidency, Slovenia, said the treaty remained a key building block in efforts to make Europe "more efficient, more democratic and transparent".

While most countries said they accepted Ireland's verdict, their disappointment at the result was palpable.

"By voting no, the Irish people have put the brakes on the development of the EU. The Irish 'No' will affect us all. The EU's competitiveness is going to suffer," said Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

"The 'No' to the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, one of the EU member states that has most enjoyed the benefits of the EU, is very regrettable," Ilves told AFP.

Portugal, whose capital gave its name to the treaty, was optimistic that the way ahead would become clearer after a crisis summit in Brussels on Thursday and that Europe still had the desire to overcome this major hurdle.

"We are convinced that the political willingness that led to the compromise of Lisbon is still there," Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado told the Lusa news agency.

But Prime Minister Jose Socrates said he saw the Irish "No" as a "personal defeat" after it was signed by EU leaders in the Portuguese capital.

Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic said that Europe should enter into a similar period of "reflexion" to the one that followed the breakdown of talks on the EU's draft constitution, which the Lisbon Treaty was supposed to resolve.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said it was important to avoid a "two-speed" European structure, adding that Europe must find "solutions which take into account the fears of the Irish, without throwing into question the treaty's reforms."

"The European Union has overcome difficult moments and each time it has come out of the crisis stronger, ready for new endeavours and challenges. I'm sure that this time things will be the same," he added.

Poland's eurosceptic President Lech Kaczynski has so far failed to sign the treaty which was approved by his country's parliament in April.

Tusk said Kaczynski could sign the treaty shortly.

One of the EU's most recent entrants, Bulgaria, for its part, expressed a belief that such a solution could be found "in less than a week," according to European Affairs Minister Gergana Grancharova.

No comments: