EU: Summit On Troubled Treaty Leaves Onus On Ireland
By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS -- EU leaders have decided to put off until October all decisions on how to proceed after Irish voters rejected the bloc's Lisbon reform treaty last week.
A declaration at the end of their two-day summit in Brussels, leaders called for the treaty's ratification process to continue and put the onus on Ireland to find a way out of the impasse.
The Irish referendum is effectively the third time an EU member state has vetoed a new constitution for the bloc -- after French and Dutch referendums rejected it in 2005 in its first incarnation. For any EU treaty to take effect, all member states must approve it.
Yet the EU is desperately clinging to the notion it is business as usual. In their summit declaration, the bloc's leaders said the Lisbon Treaty lives, and that the ratification process goes on.
"The European Council agreed that more time was needed to analyze the situation," said Prime Minister Janez Jansa of Slovenia, which currently holds the EU's presidency. "It noted that the Irish government will actively consult both internally and in other member states in order to suggest a common way forward."
The declaration goes on to say that at Ireland's request, EU leaders will next revisit the issue at their next summit on October 15.
Thus, the EU has effectively decided to take a time out till the next summit. The Irish referendum defeat was shrugged off, Dublin was instructed to come up with a solution to the impasse, and the seven countries yet to ratify the Lisbon Treaty were urged to do so at the at their earliest convenience.
But there are cracks in this edifice of EU resolve to forge on. The most obvious among these is the resurfaced bickering over the bloc's further enlargement.
On June 19, French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- whose country will assume the six-month EU presidency on July 1 -- made his position unequivocally clear.
"No Lisbon, no enlargement," he told a news conference. Sarkozy explained that not a single country could join the EU before the Lisbon Treaty is in place. This would put paid to Croatia's ambition of joining in 2010.
But Sarkozy was directly contradicted by Jansa, who said enlargement "must not become a victim" of the Lisbon Treaty.
The pressure is now on Ireland. To say that Ireland's options are limited would be an understatement. The idea of holding another referendum without significant concessions being introduced into the Lisbon Treaty has been described by leading Irish politicians as "lunacy." The European Commission and a number of EU countries, led by Germany, have ruled out renegotiating the treaty.
Officials say Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told his EU colleagues last night that Ireland does not want to leave the EU. Ireland did also not ask for other member states to halt the ratification process. In return, the summit imposes no formal deadline on Ireland -- although it is understood a solution must be found in advance of the June 2009 European Parliament elections. Without the Lisbon Treaty, the EU must fall back on the existing Nice Treaty with a different distribution of seats between member states.
But there could be trouble beyond Ireland -- namely, from Euroskeptics in the Czech Republic's ruling party. They've been bolstered by the Irish vote, making the treaty's ratification by parliament unclear.
To complicate matters further, the treaty is being scrutinized by the Constitutional Court, which isn't due to rule until around September. No wonder Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said on June 19 he "wouldn't bet 100 crowns" on the outcome if the vote was held now.
In their declaration, leaders acknowledged that the Czechs' ratification was suspended until the court ruling.
"The European Council noted that the Czech Republic cannot complete the ratification process until the [Czech] Constitutional Court delivers its positive opinion on the accordance of the Lisbon Treaty with the Czech constitutional order," Jansa said.
Sweden, another Euroskeptic nation, let it be known at the summit it expects to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in November.
Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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