ANN CAHILL: Cowen buys time before decision on way forward

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen managed to buy Ireland four months before he must decide what to do about the country’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty.

Most countries expect Ireland to hold a second referendum, preferably by next April, but they are aware that this must be carefully weighed in case of a second rejection. Foreign Minister Micheál Martin virtually ruled out renegotiating the treaty to include the long list of demands being made by Sinn Féin. Asked about the likelihood of the other countries agreeing to reopen the document to accommodate changes the no campaign want, he said, “It’s unattainable”.

This would leave Ireland looking for guarantees on various issues such as tax. They may also be able to convince the other countries to leave every country with a commissioner, although Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned this would be extremely difficult.

Several EU leaders, including Dutch prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering said the treaty needed to be ratified in time for the Parliament’s elections next June.

The French and Germans were pushing for a timetable from Mr Cowen and an undertaking to return to Brussels in October with a solution.

He resisted the pressure and won them around to agreeing that Ireland would be given time to reflect and report back to their next summit.

Mr Cowen warned: “It would be counterproductive to any potential way forward that might emerge in due course for us to attempt to predetermine a precise timeframe for that process now.”

Instead he proposed consulting people in Ireland and his EU colleagues over the next few months to discover the reasons for the treaty’s rejection and return with his analysis.

He emphasised that the problem is one not just for Ireland, but also for the EU. However, it was obvious from comments made by various prime ministers and others that they believe Ireland must decide what they will do.

Luxembourg prime minister Jean Claude Juncker said that by October it must be clear what is to be done while German chancellor Angela Merkel made it quite clear that they do not want to abandon the treaty. “We need the Lisbon treaty,” she said.

The Government said they would not ask the remaining seven member states to continue to ratify the treaty, but all said they would with the exception of the Czech Republic, whose Senate has referred it to the Constitutional Court while its lower house has ratified it.

Two prominent members of the no campaign, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and former Green MEP Patricia McKenna said they would not accept anything other than a complete renegotiated treaty that included a whole range of changes.

The summit continues today when the leaders will make decisions on a number of policies aimed at tackling the crisis caused by rising fuel and food prices.


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