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EU keeps treaty alive despite Irish ‘No’

European Union foreign ministers vowed on Monday to keep the EU reform treaty alive despite Ireland’s ‘No’ vote, but conceded they had no quick solution to salvage it.

Ministers meeting in Luxembourg began to pick up the pieces after Thursday’s Irish referendum cast doubt over the survival of a pact meant to ease decision making and bolster the EU’s economic and political weight in the world. EU leaders will want to hear from Prime Minister Brian Cowen at a summit in Brussels later this week whether he sees any hope of winning a new referendum, a step Irish officials have not ruled out but which they believe is a high-risk strategy. France led nations arguing that the EU had damaged its cause by failing to respond to public anger over rising food and fuel prices, with some fearing the bloc’s image would suffer a further blow if this week’s summit did not look at the issue.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin insisted it was “far too early” for proposals on rescuing a treaty which will not now come into force on January 1 as planned. “The people’s decision has to be respected and we have to chart a way through. There are no quick fix solutions,” he said. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Dublin had asked for time to analyze the outcome before deciding on what to do next. Britain has said it will defy domestic Eurosceptic pressure and complete ratification in its parliament this week. “No one is rushing to judgment. No one believes contrary to the Irish Foreign Minister that there is a quick fix,” Miliband said. But Dublin’s 26 partners are not taking ‘No’ for an answer. Almost all, except the wavering Czechs, say ratification should continue elsewhere in the bloc.

“The treaty is not dead. The EU is in constant crisis management -- we go from one crisis to another and finally we find a solution,” Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb told reporters, noting the bloc had dealt with past voter setbacks. Ahead of a trip to Prague on Monday by President Nicolas Sarkozy, Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra urged France not to put pressure on his country and the other eight member states who have yet to endorse the pact. “The Lisbon treaty may be unpassable in the Czech Senate,” daily Hospodarske Noviny quoted Vondra as saying.

 
“NO BULLYING”

The Irish member of the European Commission, Charlie McCreevy, said on the sidelines of a Dublin business conference: “There can be no question of the Irish government being bullied into anything.” The Lisbon Treaty is designed to streamline decision-making in Brussels and provide the bloc with a permanent “EU President” post and a foreign policy supremo with a real foreign service.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters the Irish vote did not diminish the bloc’s commitment to admit new members from southeastern Europe, in apparent contrast to doubts raised by European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering. “The European Union sticks to its word concerning the EU perspective of southeastern Europe, that is the Western Balkans and Turkey,” Rehn said in an interview. Poettering told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag: “As long as the Lisbon treaty is not in force, there can be no further accessions to the EU, with the possible exception of Croatia.”

Zagreb is at the front of the queue of countries vying to join the bloc and hopes to conclude negotiations next year. A potentially damaging “who lost Ireland” debate flared when French ministers accused the executive European Commission of insensitivity to fishermen, truckers and cattle breeders hit by soaring fuel and food prices. French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier told Europe 1 radio that Brussels should have been more responsive rather than rejecting Sarkozy’s call to use extra tax receipts on petrol to cushion the cost to the worst affected sectors.

EU officials hope that if all other countries back the treaty by December, the Irish can be persuaded to try again in exchange for assurances on issues such as preserving a member of the European Commission for each member country and retaining national vetoes over tax legislation indefinitely. (Reuters)