BRUSSELS Europe must press on with ratifying the EU reform treaty and insist that Ireland resolve the impasse created by its "No" vote, officials and commentators said on Saturday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the rejection should not spark a crisis and confirmed that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had assured him he would defy British Eurosceptics and pursue endorsement of the EU reform pact.
"Today, 18 European states have ratified. The others must continue to ratify ... so that this Irish incident does not become a crisis," Sarkozy told a news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush in Paris.
Others also interpreted Britain's swift pledge on Friday to pursue ratification as a sign it would back a joint effort by France and Germany to salvage the pact, known as the Lisbon treaty, during the French Presidency of the EU later this year.
That would be in sharp contrast to 2005, when "No" votes in founder EU members France and the Netherlands sounded the deathknell for the planned EU constitution which the Lisbon treaty was drafted to replace.
"This time the scenario is radically different," said Belgium's Le Soir in an editorial. "The idea is to completely isolate Ireland."
Some differed, with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker telling German radio the rejection showed it was time to press on with a "Club of the Few" countries most enthusiastic about forging joint EU policies.
"STUFF THE IRISH"?
Commentators fretted over the damage done to the EU's image abroad by the resounding 53.4 percent vote against a treaty aimed at streamlining decision-making in the enlarged 27-member bloc and strengthening its voice on the world stage.
Many argued the referendum was not against the treaty itself -- an opaque text few profess to have read -- but was hijacked by domestic issues and a popular dissatisfaction throughout the bloc with an EU widely regarded as elitist and bureaucratic.
France's Le Figaro suggested that the Irish be called to vote again on a tweaked text -- an idea few officials in Dublin want to contemplate right now -- and that Paris, Berlin and should London work together to get EU reform back on track.
"We shall have to play down the Irish 'No' and focus on the priorities of European policy," the right-leaning paper said, while other newspapers in France agreed the result presented Sarkozy with a major headache two weeks before the start of France's six-month EU presidency.
Spain's El Pais voiced confidence an EU summit in Brussels starting next Thursday would keep ratification of the treaty on track for completion by an end-of-year deadline, while others questioned the validity of the Irish vote.
"Things are being done very badly if a 'no' by 862,415 Irish can hold a sword over the entire institutional plan for 500 million Europeans," an editorial in El Mundo said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters during a trip to China the onus was now on Ireland to "clear the way" for the bloc's other 26 members to continue developing joint EU policies, without elaborating.
Greek's To Vima newspaper warned the fate of the treaty now hung on what happened in more Eurosceptic countries such as Britain and the Czech Republic, whose Eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus insisted on Friday that ratification moves must be frozen.
Speculation was rife about the way ahead. Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung suggested the Irish vote could hasten steps towards a "two-speed Europe" where a handful of pro-EU countries develop common policies of their own.
That option was among scenarios listed by The Guardian, which also said it was possible the treaty would be declared dead and even the improbable outcome that Ireland be told to leave the EU -- the "Stuff the Irish" solution.
But it sighed: "What happens now is as clear as peat soil."
(Reporting by Paris, Berlin, Athens, Rome, and Madrid bureaus; Editing by Dominic Evans)