EU leaders concede new treaty will be delayed


Brussels : The European Union (EU) leaders agreed Friday to go ahead with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, but wrote off any chance of the bloc’s new rules coming into force Jan 1, as they had hoped.

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“The European Council (of ministers) noted that the parliaments of 19 member states have ratified the treaty and that the ratification process continues in other countries,” a draft text of the summit’s conclusions seen by DPA said.

Agreement on the exact wording of the conclusions followed intense discussions that only ended late into the night Thursday.

Unlike three years ago, when referenda in France and the Netherlands sealed the fate of a doomed EU constitution, leaders sent a strong signal to critics of the Lisbon Treaty by insisting that it could still be salvaged.

That came despite the results of a Eurobarometer opinion poll, released Friday, which showed that over three quarters of Irish voters who rejected the treaty in a referendum June 12 believed that their rejection would lead to the scrapping of the treaty and the start of talks on a new one.

The outcome of that vote has seriously thrown into doubt the future of the treaty, which is designed to improve the 27-member bloc’s decision-making process and give it a stronger voice on the international stage.

And it poses a major political problem for Ireland’s new Prime Minister Brian Cowen, after the poll revealed that two-thirds of all voters, and 57 percent of those who voted yes, thought that the “no campaign” was more convincing than the government’s “yes campaign”.

The treaty was brokered by Germany at a summit in June 2007 following years of wrangling and has so far been ratified by 19 national parliaments.

In their conclusions, the leaders stopped short of placing a date on when the treaty should come into force, effectively confirming the widely-held belief that the implementation of the new rules would have to be delayed.

“Jan 1 is officially dead,” said Piotr Kaczynski, an expert on EU reform at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.

In a concession to the Czech Republic, leaders also agreed to add a footnote pointing out that ratification by that country was subject to the approval of its constitutional court.

The fallout from the Irish no to a treaty overshadowed EU discussions on surging oil and food prices.

After hearing about the reasons for the referendum’s outcome from Cowen over dinner, the leaders also agreed not to put pressure on Ireland to find a solution to the crisis, saying the country needed more time to analyse the result.

“We will not set any deadlines today, not for Ireland, not for anybody else,” said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

That stance was crucial for the Czech Republic, where Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek faces a tough battle with Eurosceptic senators to continue the ratification process.

“I will certainly not pressure anyone to vote for or against. The truth is that I would not bet even 100 koruny ($6.45) on a Czech yes if the ratification were to take place now,” Topolanek said late Thursday evening.