Lisbon will not pass in time for EU elections


EU:THE GOVERNMENT will tell EU leaders at a summit next week that it will not be able to ratify the Lisbon Treaty before the European elections next June.

The decision means the elections will be held under the Nice Treaty rules reducing the number of MEPs that can be elected to the European Parliament in 12 countries. Instead of the 751 MEPs envisaged under Lisbon, Nice stipulates that 736 MEPs can be elected.

"It would be counterproductive to try and press ahead too hastily. A step-by-step approach is needed," Minister for Foreign Affairs Michéal Martin told anxious MEPs at the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee in Brussels yesterday.

Mr Martin faced tough questioning from pro-Lisbon MEPs, who warned him that the rest of Europe could not wait around forever for Ireland to back the treaty.

"We cannot wait for Godot because Godot never comes," said Romanian MEP Adrian Severin.

Jo Leinen, the German socialist MEP who chairs the committee, said the committee had been working on a new constitution for Europe for seven years because everyone knew the Nice Treaty was insufficient to meet the needs of the EU. "We are particularly keen on getting the Lisbon Treaty ratified by all 27 member states . . . before the next elections to the European Parliament," he said, noting that 24 EU state parliaments had ratified the treaty and Sweden and the Czech Republic would soon follow.

Another German MEP Elmar Brok said he didn't think the Lisbon Treaty could be put off until next autumn. "I think these decisions must be taken before the European Parliament elections because it will look like we are incapable of action," said Mr Brok, who added that he trusted the Irish people to help the parliament shore up democracy in the EU.

MEPs are particularly attached to the Lisbon Treaty not just because it enables more parliamentarians to be elected but also because it vastly increases the responsibilities of the EU legislature. For example, it gives MEPs significantly more powers to scrutinise the EU's financial affairs and legislation in the sensitive field of justice and home affairs. But the Government has already begun telling its partners that it can't solve its Lisbon dilemma until autumn next year when it may be possible to hold a second referendum.

Several MEPs said the Georgia crisis showed Lisbon was needed. "My citizens are waiting for a common energy policy and the feeling is this won't come about because the Irish have voted it down. There is no solidarity in the EU, that is a shame," said Polish MEP Genowefa Grabowska.

British MEP Andrew Duff asked Mr Martin if he would commit the Government to cleaning up the Irish laws on financing of referendum campaigns and the issue of equal broadcasting time for both sides in a campaign. "Several bizarre judgments of the Supreme Court have put charlatans upon the same basis of parliamentarians," said Mr Duff, who also asked Mr Martin to clarify whether a second referendum was planned.

Mr Martin repeated the Government's position that it is too early to tell whether a second referendum would be held. But he said the Government would provide clarity on the rules that would govern the European elections at next week's EU summit. A solution to overcome the No vote would have to wait until the December summit, he added.

He dismissed criticism by Northern Irish MEP Jim Allister, who accused Mr Martin of having no "sense of shame" for not listening to the will of the Irish people who voted No.

"You should know better coming from your part of the world that saying No forever doesn't work. Dialogue was the key to resolving common challenges and problems," he told Mr Allister to applause.