'No is No!' militants warn visiting Sarkozy

As he heads for Ireland on Monday to find a way out of the crisis sparked by the Irish veto of the Lisbon Treaty, French President Nicolas Sarkozy may well find the welcome somewhat lukewarm. Tense politicians and angry militants await his arrival.


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French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces a potentially hostile audience in Dublin on Monday when he visits to "listen and understand" the reasons Irish voters rejected the EU reform treaty last month.



Caroline de Camaret, European  Affairs Specialist at  FRANCE 24, summarized the dilemma Sarkozy faces: “On the one hand, he certainly doesn’t want to abandon the treaty, but he also doesn’t want to exclude Ireland from Europe.”

Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, has the task of finding a way out of the crisis sparked by the Irish vote, which sank hopes of adopting a treaty intended to fix the bloc's unwieldy decision-making processes.

The text, agreed after French voters rejected a proposed EU constitutional charter in 2005, must be ratified by every EU member state before it can come into force.

But Sarkozy's visit has been overshadowed by a furore over a remark he made at a closed-door meeting with French lawmakers that the Irish would have to vote again on the treaty.

His comment reportedly sparked "quiet fury" in the Irish government, and opponents of the treaty were openly outraged by what they saw as outside interference.


Pascale Joannin, director of the Robert Schumann foundation, told FRANCE 24, “This was a lack of diplomacy. It will go over badly if Nicolas Sarkozy comes up with his own solution.”

French officials have been at pains to stress that Sarkozy's remark, relayed by parliamentarians at the meeting, was not for public consumption and they say no decision can be made until the reasons for the Irish "No" vote have been fully analysed.

They also say Sarkozy was well placed to understand Irish concerns over national sovereignty and disaffection with a distant EU bureaucracy after French voters sparked the crisis in the first place by rejecting the earlier reform charter in 2005.

The visit will include meetings with both opponents and supporters of the treaty. Sarkozy said he was interested mainly in hearing what the Irish themselves have to say.

"That's why I'm coming to Dublin: to listen and understand," he told the Irish Times at the weekend.


But no one is expecting a breakthrough and there has been open scepticism from some, particularly about the scheduled meeting of just over an hour with more than a dozen groups representing both supporters and opponents of the treaty.

"This kind of idea that President Sarkozy can come to Ireland and persuade us to change our mind or try and hear what we have to say and give us all three minutes each, I think there is a little degree of arrogance in that," Ireland's Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore told public broadcaster RTE.

Behind French assurances that Sarkozy is there to listen, there has also been no suggestion that his reported comments on a second Irish vote were not accurate.

"He said, behind closed doors, what everyone knows in reality," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

French officials say there is some scope for meeting Irish concerns over issues like retaining Ireland's traditional neutrality, its right to name one of the European commissioners or its ban on abortion.

But Sarkozy himself has been clear about the fundamental question of whether the Irish vote can be allowed to hold up the so-called Lisbon treaty, which a majority of the 27-member bloc has already ratified.

"I was one of the first European leaders to say publicly that the democratic decision of the Irish people had to be respected," he told the Irish Times.

"But the democratic choice of the 23 states which have decided to ratify the treaty has to be respected as well."

Sarkozy's attachment to the treaty, a simplified version of the charter torpedoed in 2005 which is intended to replace the widely criticised Nice treaty, is all the stronger because he was one of the driving forces behind its creation last year.


How to overcome this institutional crisis? According to Joannin, the only possible solution would be for a new Ireland vote on the treaty “after a light-handed modification of the text.”


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