EU closes ranks around treaty
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers closed ranks on Monday to insist the EU reform treaty was still alive despite Ireland's "No" vote, but conceded they had no quick solutions to rescue it.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said it was too early to say whether Dublin could put to a new vote a treaty designed to bolster the EU's economic and political weight in the world, but whose survival is now in doubt.
"We have not considered any options," Martin told a news conference after talks in Luxembourg three days before EU leaders are due to gather for a crisis summit in Brussels.
"We don't want to be left behind, we have always been strong supporters of deepening the impact of the EU on our lives," he said, insisting his EU counterparts understood the need to give Dublin "time and space" to consider next steps.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hoped for a solution this year and suggested a re-vote might be possible after adaptations to the treaty to address Irish concerns.
"There are thoughts about whether the Danish model of 1992 might be a model," he said, referring to wide-ranging opt-outs granted to Denmark that enabled the Danes to endorse the Maastricht Treaty after an initial referendum thumbs-down.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said later on Monday Ireland had to accept that the desire of most of Europe for closer integration must be respected, but said it was too soon to talk of a two-speed Europe.
"It is possible and necessary to continue advancing together. For that reason I think any debate about possible exceptions, different speeds or status within the union, or even reinforced cooperation, is premature," he said in Madrid.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who chaired Monday's talks, insisted the EU was not in a crisis.
"As in previous such situations, we shall overcome," he told a news conference. "I am convinced that sooner or later these reforms will see the light of day."
A blame-game simmered as France led nations arguing the EU had damaged its cause by failing to respond to anger over rising food and fuel prices, with some fearing the bloc's image would suffer further if this week's summit did not look at the issue.
"We want concrete measures by the EU," said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. "It is a priority for Spain... that the summit focus on issues essential to European citizens, regarding the price of food and the price of oil."
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Dublin had asked for time to analyse the outcome and said there was a broad "commitment that Europe needs to stick together".
Dublin's 26 partners are not taking "No" for an answer. Almost all, except the wavering Czechs, say ratification should continue elsewhere in the bloc and Britain has affirmed it will defy Eurosceptic pressure and pursue its endorsement plans.
In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek kept his options open on Czech endorsement of the treaty as he welcomed visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has led calls around Europe for ratification to go on.
"We have the advantage that we do not have to decide if the ratification process will be interrupted or not, because we have already interrupted it de facto," Topolanek said.
The Irish member of the European Commission, Charlie McCreevy, said on the sidelines of a Dublin business conference: "There can be no question of the Irish government being bullied into anything."
A statement from the office of the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he would be briefing all member state leaders at the European Council on Thursday.
"He said that while he understood that the result of the referendum gave rise to deep disappointment among other EU leaders, it would be important for all the member states to work together in finding an acceptable path forward."
The Lisbon Treaty is designed to streamline decision-making in Brussels and provide the bloc with a permanent "EU President" post and a foreign policy supremo with a real foreign service.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters the Irish vote did not diminish the bloc's commitment to admit new members from southeastern Europe, in apparent contrast to doubts raised by European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering.
"The European Union sticks to its word concerning the EU perspective of southeastern Europe, that is the Western Balkans and Turkey," Rehn said in an interview.
According to the latest draft of this week's final summit statement, EU leaders will express concern over the impact of the surge in oil prices but insist that measures to help those affected be "short-term and targeted".
"There will be big demos (over fuel and food prices) outside the summit. The leaders inside will look out of touch if they are not addressing those concerns," said one EU diplomat.
(Additional reporting by Ben Harding in Madrid)
(Writing by Mark John and Paul Taylor; Editing by Matthew Jones.)
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