a Yes vote was acceptable. Who do the EU think they are—
Germany and France today moved to isolate Ireland in the European Union, scrambling for ways to resuscitate the Lisbon treaty after the Irish dealt the architects of the union’s new regime a crushing defeat.
Refusing to take Ireland’s no for an answer, leading 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 reform treaty be ratified by the rest of the EU.
The scene is set for a 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.
The integration minister, Conor Lenihan, said it was unlikely the treaty would be put to the republic’s electorate again. Senior strategists in Fianna Fail said it would be “politically impossible” to try to repeat what happened in 2002, when Ireland voted in favour of the Nice treaty 12 months after having rejected it.
“This time around, the turnout was high, so there can be no justification for it. The government is caught in a political trap,” one senior Fianna Fail source said.
“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.”
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, which aims to reform the way the EU is run and gives the union its first sitting president and foreign minister.
The Franco-German plan, to be refined at this week’s summit, is to have all 26 other EU states 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 whether 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 “specific means of cooperation” 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,” he said.
“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 27 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 in Britain.
Brian Cowen, the forlorn Irish prime minister who has been in office for only a few weeks, faces a miserable meeting in Brussels. He will be grilled at the summit and will be expected to come up with ideas for a way out of the mess. He is warning that there is no quick fix.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who will be taking over the EU presidency in a fortnight, is also resolved not to allow the crisis to hijack his ambitious EU agenda.
The manner of coping with the Irish rebuff is more likely to deepen the EU’s problems with democracy and legitimacy. There are already calls for the Irish to be offered soothing words on issues such as abortion or corporation tax and then told to stage the vote again.
Adela G. writes: