European Union foreign affairs ministers are gathering in Luxembourg for talks on how to respond to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon reform treaty. Voters in the Irish Republic, the only state to hold a referendum on Lisbon, rejected the treaty by 53.4% to 46.6% last Thursday.
The Lisbon treaty cannot be implemented unless approved by all 27 EU states. But a majority of EU members agree that those who have yet to ratify the treaty should carry on and do so. Various EU leaders have made public statements since the treaty's defeat and according to the European press a number of different ideas have emerged on what to do next. "A 'no' vote does send us into some uncharted territory and we have to now try and chart that territory and see what way forward we can achieve. Clearly, if things stay as they are, the Lisbon treaty cannot be ratified. That is the constitutional position" Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told state radio Sunday. "My job is to make sure that our interests are not undermined and to try to find ways forward which are not obvious to me immediately" Mr Cowen told the state broadcaster. "I want Europe to try to provide some of the solution as well". In London Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain will continue with its treaty ratification through Parliament this week, but it would rather see the treaty fall than go along with any two-speed plan. "There can be no question of bulldozing or bamboozling or ignoring the Irish vote. In the end it is for the Irish Prime Minister to decide what his next moves are. He has got to decide whether or not to apply the last rites. That is his prerogative". But it should not oblige other countries to postpone their own ratification plans. Miliband added that the idea of a two-speed Europe was "a 1990s agenda, not a 21st-century agenda". Separately, French President Nicholas Sarkozy is due to arrive in the Czech capital Prague on Monday for talks with the Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Slovak leaders. France in two weeks time takes over the EU rotating presidency from Slovakia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that ratifications must carry on so that the Irish vote does not "become a crisis". Of the four central European countries, the Czech Republic has yet to ratify the treaty while Polish President Lech Kaczynski still must sign the ratification act passed by parliament in April. But Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Lisbon was dead and the people of Europe should thank the Irish voters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also discuss the crisis with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The Lisbon treaty provides for a streamlining of the European Commission, majority vote and removal of the national veto in more policy areas, a new president of the European Council and a strengthened foreign affairs post. It is also aimed at helping the EU to cope with expansion into Eastern Europe. The treaty is due to come into force on 1 January 2009. "You can count on the president not to leave Europe malfunctioning," the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said in an interview. He stressed that Paris was counting on a political deal at this week's European Council meeting which would give the French EU presidency "all means possible for implementing essential policies for Europe". But Monday's ministerial meeting in Luxembourg will also have to take into account that EU citizens are growingly disappointed with rising fuel and food prices.