Brussels in shock as Irish sink Treaty
There was a mixture of shock and disbelief in Brussels as the No vote in the Irish referendum became clear. By Vanessa Mock in Brussels
How the Irish voted
- 53 per cent of the electorate
voted (1,620,000 people)
- YES: 46.6 per cent
- NO : 53.4 per cent
- Ten constituencies backed the
treaty, 33 rejected it
There was a mixture of shock and disbelief in Brussels as the No vote in the Irish referendum became clear. "It's like being on the Titanic: we know it's sinking but there's nothing we can do to stop it," said one European Union diplomat as he watched the results of the polls coming in.
Few EU officials had been prepared for this stunning defeat. Ahead of the polls, there had been a feeling that the Yes camp could scrape a victory.
"Of course it's a disappointment, we wanted a different outcome," said Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, while refusing to concede defeat:
"The Lisbon Treaty was signed by all 27 states. I believe that the treaty is alive and that we should go on. Ireland remains committed to building a strong Europe and playing a full and active part in the EU."
On Friday, European politicians were at pains to stress that the Lisbon Treaty, which would have created an EU president and a more powerful foreign policy chief, could still be rescued. "It's a hard blow," said Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "But we need this Treaty and it must come into force."
But others were far gloomier. "It's a tragedy for Europe," sighed Andrew Duff, British Liberal Euro MP, an expert on constitutional affairs.
"There is no plan B: Lisbon was our Plan B. Yes, we should go on with ratification but we cannot start reopening the whole treaty to change it."
Some 18 member states have already ratified the Treaty and eight, including Britain, are in the process of doing so. While Gordon Brown has pledged to continue with ratification, there are jitters about the impact of the Irish outcome on other countries such as the Czech Republic, where eurosceptics could also get the political upper hand. Legally, it would be impossible for the Treaty, under its current terms, to come into force without all ratification by 27 states.
"This is the most serious political issue the EU has had to deal with for a very long time," said Jacki Davis from the Brussels-based European Policy Centre.
"It doesn't mean that the EU will collapse but it will be extremely difficult to undo the damage and almost impossible to get the Irish to vote for a second time."
The Treaty was born after the Dutch and French rejected the EU Constitution three years ago in order to break the institutional paralysis, Ms Davis added. "Now there's no clear option on the table."
Long live Lisbon?
On Friday, there was speculation in Brussels that some parts of the Treaty could be amended or removed in order to become more palatable to Irish voters in a second ballot, though most dismissed the suggestion. "There is nothing left to take out," said Dutch conservative Euro MP Ria Oomen.
"It already was a compromise treaty. I feel very sad that just one per cent of the EU population can sink this deal."
Meanwhile, pressure was expected to grow on Dublin to provide solutions. All eyes will be on the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen next week, when EU leaders meet for an EU summit that is now being billed as crisis talks. Mr Barroso on Friday called on Mr Cowen to propose "his ideas" on how to address the concerns of No-voters and put forward a suggestion on how to salvage the treaty.
Irish under fire
"It's going to get nasty," predicted one diplomat. He added: "Half of EU countries will try to play political origami to try to find a way out of this mess, while others like the French and the Germans will try to bear down on the Irish."
France and Germany, which have already pledged to hold talks on the issue, expressed their "regret" in a joint statement but expressed determination to continue with the reforms contained in the Lisbon Treaty.
But several Irish politicians said this was impossible. "This is moment of democratic truth," said Mary Lou McDonald, an MEP from Ireland's nationalist Sinn Fein party. "Do you listen to the people or don't you?"
Photo by Expatica Flickr contributor quarsan
[Copyright Radio Netherlands+Expatica]