Sarkozy denies rumours to force new Irish EU vote

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French President insists Monday that the European Union will not force Ireland to revote following their rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

22 July 2008

DUBLIN - French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted Monday the EU will not force Ireland to vote again after its shock rejection of the bloc's new treaty, as he faced protests in Dublin.

But Sarkozy - whose country took over the European Union's rotating six-month presidency this month - said repeatedly that some kind of solution must be found before next June, when EU elections are scheduled.

"I never said that Ireland had to organise a second referendum," he told reporters after talks in Dublin clouded by anger at reported remarks by him last week. "We do not want to impose anything," he added.

"I did not in any way meddle in Irish domestic affairs," he added at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.

The French leader sparked anger last week by reportedly suggesting that Ireland should vote again after its crushing rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a 12 June referendum.

Up to 1,800 demonstrators, including both pro- and anti-treaty campaigners, staged rallies outside the Irish government offices.

"We want Mr Sarkozy to respect the Irish vote and see that 'no' means 'no'.
We don't want to be bullied into another referendum," Sinead Kennedy, from the Campaign Against the European Constitution (CEUAC), told AFP.

But in a joint statement after the talks, Sarkozy's Elysee Palace presidential office sought to downplay any tensions - while also clearly signalling his view that the treaty is not dead, as its critics claim.

"The president confirmed that he respected the outcome of the Irish referendum, but welcomed the fact the ratification process is continuing in other (EU) states and expressed his commitment to the Lisbon Treaty," it said.

Cowen said Dublin was in a process of "analysis and consultation which we hope will lead us to a better understanding of the concerns underpinning the outcome of the referendum."

"The Union is in a difficult situation but we are determined to manage it,"
the Irish premier said, adding that Sarkozy "made clear that he has come here to listen."

Sarkozy said there was no specific deadline for finding a solution to the impasse left by the Irish vote, but pointed out that elections to the European Parliament are to be held next June.

"At a certain point the (EU) nations have got to decide whether those elections are going to be organised on the basis of Nice or Lisbon," he added, referring to the 2001 Nice Treaty, which currently provides the framework for EU decision-making.

Ireland, the only EU state to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, rejected it with a stunning 53.4 percent of votes against in June, in theory dealing a fatal blow since all 27 EU member states have to ratify the document for it to pass.

EU leaders are set to discuss the crisis again at an October summit, but Sarkozy appears keen to make progress as soon as possible.

Eurosceptics in Ireland and elsewhere claim the Lisbon treaty is little more than a mildly-tweaked version of the previous EU constitution, torpedoed by French and Dutch voters in referendums in 2005.

A key leader of the Irish "no" vote, millionaire businessman Declan Ganley, used the visit to highlight his plans to field anti-Lisbon candidates across the EU in the European Parliament elections next year.

Next year's EU elections should be turned into a "proxy referendum... to make sure that the Lisbon Treaty is not dug up out of the grave that the Irish people have put it in," he told BBC radio.

Sarkozy pledged solidarity with Ireland after its shock rejection of the treaty.

"I will fight to make sure that we move ahead as a family of 27 and nobody is left behind," said the French leader.

Aside from Ireland, parliaments in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Italy have yet to ratify while Polish President Lech Kaczynski has yet to sign the ratification.

To get Ireland on board, France could offer to keep the size of European Commissioners at 27 - under the Lisbon Treaty the number would be reduced - and reassure Ireland that it will have a say in Brussels, the French daily Le Monde reported last week.

[AFP / Expatica]

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