European Union foreign ministers start picking up the pieces on Monday after Ireland's "No" to an EU reform treaty cast doubt on whether measures meant to improve the enlarged bloc's working will ever take effect.
European foreign ministers gather Monday at the start of a crucial week for the EU's reform plans after the project suffered a stunning blow at the hands of Irish voters.
The ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, will grill Irish counterpart Micheal Martin to see if his government believes something can be done to convince the people to vote again on their cherished Lisbon Treaty.
They will also be looking for fresh assurances from EU heavyweight Britain and the Czech Republic's eurosceptic leaders that they will push on with ratifying the treaty, as 18 nations have already done.
The results of the talks will top the agenda of a two-day EU summit in Brussels starting Thursday, which is shaping up as a crisis meeting since Irish voters last week rejected the reform treaty by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent.
But the way ahead is far from clear.
"A 'no' vote does send us into some uncharted territory and we have to now try and chart that territory and see what way forward we can achieve," Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told RTE state radio Sunday.
That vote was the third referendum blow in three years to EU plans to make its bureaucracy function smoothly with 27 members.
It could leave the bloc limping along with the Nice Treaty; the inadequate rule book that was signed in 2001 so that the EU could grow but which contained no deeper reform to streamline the system once it had.
As the ministers gather, a series of bilateral meetings will be going on.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country takes up the EU's rotating presidency at an extremely tricky time on July 1, meets Czech leaders Monday.
The aim will be to see if "they are committed to follow up on their ratification process," a senior EU diplomat said, after Czech President Vaclav Klaus said the reform treaty was finished.
"You can count on the president not to leave Europe malfunctioning," French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said in an interview Sunday.
He stressed that Paris was counting on a political deal at this week's EU summit which would give the French EU presidency "all means possible for implementing essential policies for Europe."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also discuss the crisis with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Since the results of Thursday's Irish referendum were announced, most EU leaders have insisted that ratification should continue in the eight nations that have not yet endorsed the treaty.
Doing so would put enormous pressure on Ireland to hold a fresh referendum.
The Lisbon Treaty, signed last December in Portugal, would give the EU more majority voting rather than the difficult-to-achieve unanimity required now.
It would also introduce a European Council president for a two-and-a-half year term and a new stronger foreign policy supremo.
But as EU leaders lean toward moving ahead with Lisbon, not for the first time they risk being accused of ignoring their citizens, who are already riled by rising fuel and food prices.
In other items on Monday's agenda, the foreign ministers will study a Spanish proposal to definitively lift sanctions against Cuba.
They will also discuss plans to strengthen ties with Israel, amid concern the move could be badly received in Arab countries and provide a pretext for leaders to boycott a Mediterranean summit in Paris on July 13.
Bosnia is also set to sign a key rapprochement accord seen as the first step down the long road toward joining the EU.
Date created : 2008-06-16