Ian Traynor in Brussels and Henry McDonald in Dublin
Sunday June 15 2008
EU tries to isolate Irish after Germany and France moved to isolate Ireland in the European Union yesterday, scrambling for ways to resuscitate the Lisbon Treaty a day after the Irish dealt the architects of the EU's new regime a crushing blow.
Refusing to take Ireland's 'no' for an answer, politicians in Berlin and Paris prepared for a crucial EU summit in Brussels this week by trying to ringfence the Irish while demanding that the treaty be ratified by the rest of the EU.
The scene is now set for a major clash between the Irish and their European partners after a Dublin minister and sources in the ruling Fianna Fail party ruled out any chance of a second Irish referendum on the treaty.
Integration minister Conor Lenihan said this weekend that it was unlikely the treaty would be put to the Republic's electorate again. Meanwhile, senior strategists in Fianna Fail said it would be 'politically impossible' for them to try to repeat what happened in 2001-02, when Ireland first rejected the Nice Treaty but then held a second poll which voted in favour of it 12 months later.
'This time around, the turnout was high, so there can be no justification for it. The government is caught in a political trap. There are local as well as European elections in Ireland next year and Fianna Fail will not risk having to hold another referendum. Within the next 12 months at the very least, there is absolutely no chance that Ireland will re-run Lisbon,' one senior Fianna Fail source said.
Jim Murphy, the government's Europe minister, warned that Ireland could find itself isolated. 'The Irish government need to come to the European Council meeting this week to tell us, the UK and other governments in the European Union how they think we should be taking this forward based on the sovereign decision of the Irish people,' he said.
The Tories said that after the rejection of the treaty's forerunner - the now abandoned EU constitution - by French and Dutch voters in 2005, EU leaders should finally accept that their blueprint for reform was dead. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: 'It is time to turn away from this whole centralising project and concentrate on things that really matter.'
However France's Europe minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said a search was on for a way to accommodate the Irish verdict without derailing plans to implement the treaty that aims to change how the EU is run and gives the Union its first sitting president and foreign minister.
The Franco-German plan is to get all 27 EU states to ratify the treaty as soon as possible, to quarantine the Irish and then come up with some legal manoeuvre enabling the treaty to go ahead.
It is not clear yet how or if this will succeed. 'The legal situation is clear,' said a European Commission official. 'Unless the treaty is ratified by all, there is no treaty.'
Jouyet said that 'specific means of co-operation' could be invoked to deal with Ireland. 'The most important thing is that the ratification process must continue in the other countries, and then we shall see with the Irish what type of legal arrangement could be found.'
'We're sticking firmly to our goal of putting this treaty into effect,' said the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 'So the process of ratification must continue.'
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who devoted most of last year to getting the EU's members to agree on the Lisbon Treaty after the failure of the EU's proposed new constitution in 2005, said: 'We must carry on.'
The Franco-German refusal to countenance defeat may run into opposition in Scandinavia and eastern Europe, while David Cameron's Conservatives will continue to pound Gordon Brown over his refusal to stage a referendum.
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday June 15 2008 on p4 of the News section. It was last updated at 00:11 on June 15 2008.