June 13, 2008 / 4:18 PM / 11 years ago

Backers say EU treaty alive despite Irish "No"

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - France, Germany and other backers of the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty urged the bloc to press ahead with the project on Friday despite a resounding Irish “No” that puts its future in doubt.

The rejection will transform a meeting of EU leaders next week into a crisis summit where they will explore how to rescue a treaty aimed at bolstering decision-making processes already under strain in the enlarged, 27-member bloc.

“I believe the treaty is alive and we should now try to find a solution,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference in Brussels, calling on EU leaders to take “joint decisions” at the talks starting on Thursday.

France and Germany, long-time motors of European integration, said they regretted the Irish vote but stressed the treaty had already been ratified by 18 EU states.

“We hope therefore that other member states will continue this process of ratification,” they said in a joint statement.

In London, where Eurosceptics are likely to step up calls on the government to scrap the treaty or hold a referendum, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain would press ahead with parliamentary ratification.

“The Irish government have made clear they believe it’s right for countries like Britain to continue the ratification process because there needs to be a British view as well as an Irish view,” Miliband told reporters.

Only Vaclav Klaus, the Eurosceptic Czech president whose country has yet to complete ratification, insisted the Irish vote was a “victory of freedom and reason over artificial elitist projects and European bureaucracy.

“The Lisbon treaty project ended today with the decision of the Irish voters and its ratification cannot be continued,” Klaus said in a statement.

NO QUICK FIX

Official results showed that 53.4 percent of Irish voters — the only ones in Europe to be given a direct say over the project — rejected the reform treaty after a campaign that left many confessing they did not clearly understand the issues.

A replacement for the draft EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, the Lisbon Treaty creates key new positions such as a long-term EU president but few profess to have read the complex text.

In Stockholm, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Sweden’s parliament would go ahead with a vote on ratification.

But even treaty supporters acknowledged the Irish vote was a huge setback to EU efforts for closer integration.

“It is a serious blow to European construction, which for now does not allow the adoption of essential decisions on security, the management of immigration, energy politics or the protection of the environment,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, a former European commissioner, said in Rome.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the result “is a problem, but I still think the ratification and the implementation will successfully be finalised”.

“There is no way to talk this up,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik in a statement. “This is not a situation for quick answers.”

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the longest serving EU leader who was tipped as a contender for the role of president of the European Council of EU leaders established in the treaty, said it was clear the text could now not enter into force on January 1, 2009 as planned.

EU President Slovenia said it did not believe there would be any impact on EU accession talks with Croatia and Turkey. The EU’s Nice Treaty only envisages Croatian membership, while Turkish entry is not seen before 2015 in any case.

Barroso said the result had to be respected even though it represented the votes of a tiny fraction of the bloc’s population of nearly half a billion.

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