Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 18:05 UK

Treaty woes plague EU neighbours

The Republic of Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum has thrown the EU into a fresh crisis. Here BBC correspondents report on attitudes to the treaty elsewhere in the EU.

GERMANY - Tristana Moore

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the Irish result was "a hard blow" but "the ratification process must continue".

The Irish No vote is a big personal setback for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who spearheaded efforts to push through the new EU treaty.

Mrs Merkel flew to Dublin in April to try to rally support for the Lisbon Treaty. She insisted that provisions for more majority voting and the creation of a new high representative for foreign affairs would ensure that the EU could "bring its weight to bear" in international negotiations.

As the final result was announced on Friday, the French and German governments issued a joint statement, keen to put a brave face on the Irish No vote. "We take note of the democratic decision of the Irish citizens with all due respect, even though we regret it," said President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel.

Given the fact that 18 EU members have approved the treaty, they said, "we hope that the other member states will continue the process of ratification". But it is unclear what this means in practice. As one German MP said, "no-one has a Plan B. I also don't have one."

While Germany held the rotating EU presidency in 2007, Mrs Merkel desperately tried to breathe new life into the condemned EU constitution. She was largely responsible for getting the heads of EU governments to agree on the draft text, arguing that it would make Europe stronger and more united.

There was no popular referendum on the EU treaty in Germany. At the end of April, Germany's lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag, voted to ratify the treaty with the necessary two-thirds majority. The treaty was also ratified by Germany's upper house, the Bundesrat, in May. But German President Horst Koehler has still not signed it.

The Left Party, which voted against the treaty, said the EU should scrap it in favour of one which was "more transparent, simple and understandable for the people of Europe".

In 2005, when the idea of a referendum on the now defunct EU constitution was mooted, opinion polls suggested that a majority of Germans were opposed to the document. Most Germans complained that they simply couldn't understand the constitution.


The Czech Republic takes over the reins of the EU on 1 January 2009 - the day the Lisbon Treaty is supposed to come into effect.

Prague now finds itself reaching for a Plan B, and is reluctantly cast as a key player in the debate over Europe's future.

According to President Vaclav Klaus, "the Lisbon Treaty project ended today with the decision of the Irish voters and its ratification cannot be continued".

Mirek Topolanek, the country's centre-right prime minister, believes the Irish No is a complication, but not one that threatens the EU's ability to function. "From the very beginning, we were working with both possible outcomes of the ratification process," he told the media.

He added that he did not consider the Irish No in any way less binding than the French and Dutch Noes of 2005, which torpedoed the EU draft constitution - a document he once scornfully rejected.

There was a clue to the general tenor of the Czech debate on the future of Europe even before the first results from Ireland came in.

"The Lisbon Treaty is a tunnel," wrote Ladislav Jakl, secretary to President Klaus, in a column published in Lidove Noviny newspaper on Friday.

"It's a tunnel through which - piece by piece - it will be possible to quietly carry away Czech statehood, our sovereignty, our constitutionality," he said. "Some people are happy. Others are unhappy. And others still don't know anything about it."

POLAND - Adam Easton

The Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, said the Irish vote did not mean the end of the Lisbon Treaty.

"We shall effectively look for ways to ensure it comes into force. Irrespective of the results of the referendum in Ireland, I think that we can deliver an optimistic message - Europe will find a way of implementing this treaty," Mr Tusk said. He urged Europe's leaders not to react by "stamping their feet or pulling faces".

Mr Tusk said the problem could be resolved step by step. "If we look at where Poland is located, European integration is in our interest. That's why the role of the government in the next few days and weeks will be to look for a solution which will not destroy the essence of the treaty - which is greater integration and the better organisation of the EU's political activities," he said.

ITALY - Christian Fraser

Silvio Berlusconi's government has adopted measures to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, but one of its key coalition partners - the Northern League - has reservations. The party is campaigning for more autonomy in the north and wants the treaty put to a referendum, like in Ireland.

"We are facing a serious case of abandoning sovereignty, popular consultation must not be bypassed," said the League's Roberto Calderoli, the newly-appointed minister for the simplification of laws.

His party will now present a bill seeking that referendum.

But the foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said the decision to adopt the treaty was taken unanimously by the cabinet. And they are hoping it will be adopted by the beginning of August.

The treaty must be ratified by parliament - it is on the agenda for debate in the lower house in July. But the government will encounter problems without the Northern League's vote.

The Italians have a love-hate relationship with Europe. Generally the public is in favour of closer ties with Brussels, but they do complain they have less money since they joined the euro.

In recent months the government has faced a series of clashes with the European Commission, including a lawsuit on the Naples rubbish crisis, disagreements on the fate of the struggling airline Alitalia, and criticism over poor public finances.

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