BRIAN COWEN was last night fighting to prevent Ireland being reduced to second-class status within the EU as Europe plunged into a week of crisis talks.
The Taoiseach warned there “was no obvious solution” to the turmoil the Republic’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty had thrown the union into.
While France and Germany insisted the Lisbon agenda should power ahead, Britain said Ireland must not be “bulldozed” and it was up to Mr Cowen whether to “say the last rites” over the treaty.
As he prepared for a two-day summit from Thursday in Brussels, the Taoiseach made it clear his priority was to stop Ireland being shunted into the slow lane of a two-speed Europe.
One option being pushed in EU capitals is for the other 26 members to ratify the document and then find a way to implement its key clauses amongst themselves without Ireland, or press the Republic to hold a second referendum.
“I’m trying to make sure we don’t end up where all of the rest of the union says: ‘Well does Ireland want to redefine its relationship with Europe’ on the basis that they want to proceed in a certain direction?’ And that is something we have to avoid,” Mr Cowen told RTÉ radio.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore warned talk of a two-tier Europe would be “disastrous” for Ireland.
European leaders stressed to Mr Cowen they expected him to come up with proposals on how to move forward as the other 26 members continue to endorse Lisbon.
The Irish vote will dominate a gathering of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg today and feature on the margins of a meeting between Mr Cowen and British PM Gordon Brown in Belfast to review the peace process.
“I now have to use my position to try and make sure that our interests are not compromised, that we try and then work with others to see if there’s a way forward here in which people would be prepared to agree other than by the Lisbon treaty route,” Mr Cowen said.
Faced with a Franco-German determination to press ahead with Lisbon, Ireland may be offered opt-outs in some areas, or added protocols to allay specific concerns.
British foreign minister David Miliband appeared sympathetic to the Irish position.
“There is no question of bulldozing, or bamboozling or ignoring the Irish vote,” Mr Miliband said.
French economy minister Christine Lagarde said implementing Lisbon would be “difficult” but expected a new deal to emerge.
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