Cowen sees 'no obvious solution' to EU crisis


Taoiseach Brian Cowen said today there are “no obvious solutions” to the crisis within the European Union sparked by Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr Cowen faces pressure from his EU colleagues this week to suggest a way around the No vote that may scupper plans to reform institutions.

Foreign ministers will pore over options at a regular meeting in Luxembourg tomorrow but the real show-down will come when Mr Cowen meets EU counterparts at a two-day crisis summit in Brussels starting on Thursday.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday his country and Germany had British backing for their appeal to pursue ratification of the text, which backers say is vital to give the bloc more economic and diplomatic clout.

Ireland is the only member state to have held a referendum on the treaty, but the deal needs all 27 states to ratify it before it comes into effect.

“I want Ireland to continue to be a constructive member of the European Union but I did point out, and I don’t take any pleasure in this, there are consequences to the decisions we have made,” Mr Cowen said during an interview on RTÉ radio.

“I now have to use my position to try and make sure that our interests are not compromised, that our interests are not undermined that we try and then work with others to if there’s a way forward here in which people would be prepared to agree other than by the Lisbon Treaty route,” he added.

“We now have to sit down in a sense of solidarity and co-operation with all of the member states to see if we can find a way forward and the fact of the matter is there is no obvious solution before us here.

“I want Europe to provide some of the solutions as well as just suggesting that it is Ireland’s problem alone, although Ireland has a position here that we have to try to deal with.”

On Friday Mr Cowen said he was not "ruling anything in or out or up or down", but officials in Dublin believe another referendum would be a high-risk strategy that could heap yet more humiliation on Ireland and Europe if it failed.

Talk in Brussels includes the possibility of offering Ireland opt-outs in some areas, or a protocol dealing with Irish concerns such as the right of all countries to retain one EU commissioner in Brussels.

Explicit assurances could even be provided that EU members would not lose their veto in certain sensitive areas, such as taxation. But no one wants to face the prospect a complete renegotiation of the unwieldy text.

A last-resort option being considered in EU circles would be introduce some of the envisaged reforms to Brussels voting rules in the accession treaty of Croatia next year, whose entry will swell the ranks of the club to 28.

"That would at least keep the show on the road," said the EU source, while conceding it would not salvage the main benefits claimed for the treaty, such as more efficient decision-making or a stronger voice for the EU on the world stage.