EU seeks to persuade Czechs to back treaty call
Sunday, 22 June 2008

 
BRUSSELS Thu Jun 19, (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - European Union leaders will try on Friday to persuade the Czech Republic to back a call for ratification of the EU reform treaty by remaining EU states, after agreeing to give Ireland time to digest its "No" vote.

Rejection of the treaty by Irish voters eight days ago threw the 27-member EU into disarray and raised questions about plans for further enlargement of the bloc.

Delays in the Czech Republic and Poland have cast further doubts about the treaty's fate and, in an ominous move, diplomats said the Czechs were resisting any reference to continuing ratification in Friday's summit final statement.

"There is particular difficulty with our Czech friends. I hope we will be able to lift it by tomorrow morning," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a news conference after the first day of the summit in Brussels.

"We are talking to (Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek) about the drafting of the final communique; each side being well aware that the idea is to confine the problem to Ireland and for all the other countries to continue the ratification process."

After Britain raised EU spirits by ratifying the text in parliament on Wednesday, most of the other eight countries still to endorse it vowed to go ahead.

The Czech Senate has stalled ratification to await a constitutional court ruling, and Topolanek told reporters: "If the vote was today, I would not bet 100 crowns on the outcome."

The treaty would give EU leaders a long-term president, a stronger foreign policy chief with a real diplomatic service, a more democratic decision making system and more say for the European and national parliaments.

NO EARLY SOLUTION

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin sought to dampen expectations of an early solution to reverse his country's vote.

"That Council in October is an opportunity to make a progress report, but we would not anticipate that there would be solutions on the table in October," Martin told reporters.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said earlier after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso: "It is far too early yet for anybody to put forward proposals."

Sarkozy, who takes on the bloc's rotating presidency from July 1, said he would visit Ireland next month to try to come up with a way forward at the next EU summit in October.

"The idea would be ... for our Irish friends to report to the European Council in October on the evolution of the situation to set a definitive strategy," he said.

He also insisted that without the Lisbon treaty, meant to overhaul the EU's creaking institutions, there could be no further enlargement of the Union -- a view contradicted by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who chaired the summit.

Options mooted to resolve the crisis have included offering assurances to the Irish that the Lisbon Treaty will not undermine their cherished neutrality, deprive them of a commissioner in Brussels, make abortions easier or raise taxes -- and then asking them to vote again, as happened once before over an earlier EU treaty.

A leader of the Irish "No" camp, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein said she could back a new treaty if binding assurances were given on neutrality, workers' rights and public services.

However, a binding protocol would require new treaty negotiations and fresh ratification. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "The options are broader than that. They don't include renegotiation."

The Irish setback gave more impetus to the summit session on responding to surges in fuel and food prices that have hit the pockets of half a billion EU citizens.

Determined to show voters the EU is not paralyzed and is addressing citizens' key concerns, the leaders debated ways to alleviate the impact of food and oil price inflation, although no immediate policy decisions were taken.
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