Irish PM in pre-summit talks on stalled EU treaty
Cowen is considering whether to hold a second vote on the Lisbon Treaty after Irish voters rejected it at the polls in June.
4 December 2008
BERLIN - Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen said here Wednesday he hoped with his European Union partners to find an "acceptable way" to break the deadlock over the EU's reform treaty, ahead of a summit next week.
Cowen is mulling whether to hold a second vote on the Lisbon Treaty after Irish voters rejected it at the polls in June, plunging the 27-nation bloc into institutional limbo and putting plans for structural reform on hold.
"Working closely with my colleagues within the European council, I'm hopeful that we can identify the elements of an acceptable way forward next week," Cowen said, referring to the EU summit in Brussels on 11-12 December.
The Irish premier said any resolution to the impasse must address not only the concerns of the Irish public about the charter.
"I'm very conscious that it must also be acceptable to colleague member states who have made clear their desire to see the reforms contained in the Lisbon Treaty enter into force as soon as possible," Cowen said in Berlin, standing alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany was the second stop on Cowen's mini-tour of European capitals to discuss the treaty. He heads to London on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and to Paris on Friday for talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy as France currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
The embattled Irish premier's first stop Wednesday was in Luxembourg where he met Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, though no details of the closed-door meeting emerged.
Cowen is thought to be considering whether Irish voters would back the treaty in a new referendum if guarantees were given on key concerns including abortion, corporate tax and the republic's cherished military neutrality.
Researchers found that those issues, as well as opposition to losing a permanent Irish EU commissioner in Brussels, were behind the June 12 referendum rejection by 53 percent of voters.
And an opinion poll last month suggested that, with guarantees on those issues, the result could be reversed: 43 percent would vote "yes" in a new referendum, while 39 percent would vote "no," according to the Irish Times/mrbi poll.
"The Taoiseach's (prime minister's) discussions with his European Council counterparts will focus on the situation in relation to the Lisbon Treaty ahead of next week's European Council," Cowen's office said Wednesday.
"Other EU issues, notably the climate change and energy package and the international financial crisis, are also likely to feature."
In 2001, Irish voters rejected the EU's Nice Treaty, but the result was overturned the following year in a second referendum when clarifying declarations were given by other member states.
Dublin is hoping it can do something similar this time - notably seeking a guarantee from EU partners on retaining Ireland's commissioner in Brussels.
Irish leaders may also seek clarifying declarations that backing the treaty would not lead to the introduction of abortion, affect Ireland's military neutrality or its low corporation tax policy.
While Cowen flew off to discuss the treaty dilemma with EU counterparts, Ireland's three opposition parties have pressed for private briefings from the beleaguered premier.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the issue was a matter of national importance as "we are now becoming the butt of some anti-European pressure."
"I think it is very necessary that the government should be able to inform the parties here as to what the strategy is that the government intend to adopt to deal with this situation.
"We need to know what it is that the government propose to do when the Taoiseach goes out to Brussels next week to explain to the other heads of government what is the strategy for Ireland."
Cartoon by Serge Vantez