Sun, Jun 15, 2008 - Page 6 News List

EU leaders back reform despite Irish vote setback

AFP , DUBLIN

Grand reform plans for the enlarged EU were in peril yesterday after Irish voters rejected a key treaty in a referendum, but leaders vowed to push on and looked to Britain for reassurance.

Ireland voted “no” to the Lisbon Treaty by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent on Thursday, sending the 27-member bloc into a tailspin when the results were announced on Friday and causing the euro to weaken against the dollar.

But amid calls for the process to be scrapped, as all states have to ratify the text, EU leaders refused to accept defeat, raising fears Ireland’s voice will be ignored and the treaty pushed through, perhaps in a different form.

The president of the EU’s executive arm, Jose Manuel Barroso, insisted that the treaty was still “alive” and urged all countries to continue the ratification process. Eighteen have already done so.

France and Germany expressed regret over the result, but echoed the European Commission chief’s call for individual parliaments to approve the text, which aims to streamline institutions after recent eastward expansion.

Slovenia, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, said the treaty remained a key building block to make Europe “more efficient, more democratic and transparent.”

But it said Ireland — a major recipient of EU money which has helped transform its economy in recent years — had “put the brakes on” EU development and warned the bloc’s competitiveness was at risk.

Spain was also downbeat but insisted a solution would be found while Britain — traditionally lukewarm on Europe but still a big player — vowed to continue the ratification process regardless of events across the Irish Sea.

The treaty is in the final stages of debate at in parliament but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was pressed yesterday by the country’s mainly euroskeptic press to abandon the process and even hold a referendum.

Brown’s governing Labour Party made a manifesto pledge at the last general election in 2005 to hold a public vote on the EU Constitution, which was rejected by Dutch and French voters and replaced by Lisbon.

“This is his chance to assert his leadership of Europe’s constructive sceptics and give Britain the referendum it deserves,” the Times said in an editorial.

Brown has said a public vote is not necessary as the treaty has no major constitutional implications, but his fellow leaders will be looking to him for reassurance when they meet at a crunch summit next week.

Germany’s center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung said that Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were right to try to ensure that Britain does not go the same way as Ireland and press on with ratification.

The summit will see Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen explain what went wrong.

He said on Friday there could be “no quick fix” but expressed confidence the EU could, once again, find a collective way out of an apparent impasse.

Some newspapers, like London’s Financial Times and Germany’s Die Welt, called for a period of reflection and concentration instead on forging closer cooperation on issues like climate change and energy security.

“Europe has work to do” in the areas of energy, defense, agricultural policy, education, Die Welt said, adding that “for all that there is no need for a treaty but political will.”

Ireland was the only EU state to hold a referendum on the treaty, as it is constitutionally bound to do so, and the result was welcomed by euroskeptics at home and abroad.

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