EU leaders ended a key summit Friday by putting the embattled reform treaty on hold until October and clashing over whether the bloc could keep taking in new member states without it.
EU Commission President Jose Barroso reflected the frustration at the summit
EU leaders agreed to put the vexed reform treaty on hold until the next summit in October as Czech doubts and a last-minute legal hurdle in Britain deepened the crisis surrounding the document after it was thrown into chaos by the Irish rejection last week.
The Czech Republic has yet to ratify the treaty meant to make the EU slimmer and more efficient. Prague's parliamentary ratification was suspended in late April as it was going through the lower chamber, after the Senate demanded a constitutional court ruling on whether the treaty conforms with the Czech constitution.
In addition to this obstacle, the Czech Republic's eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus has already insisted the Irish vote had killed off the document, meant to help the EU operate more efficiently as it grows.
Irish Premier Brian Cowen has a lot of explaining to do
To make matters worse, a British court challenge for a referendum forced Prime Minister Gordon Brown to concede at the summit that the the treaty was invalid without a ruling.
"Ratification will not take place of course until we have had the judgement," he said. A judge at London's High Court called on the British government to delay ratification until he ruled on a legal bid to force a referendum.
In the end, EU leaders agreed on Friday to give Ireland at least until October to come up with recommendations on the way ahead.
In a final statement, the EU said although 19 member states have ratified the treaty, "more time was needed to analyse the situation."
Merkel, Sarkozy say no new members
EU leaders also failed to find common ground on whether the bloc could still absorb new members after the treaty's rejection by Ireland.
The reform charter was intended to make the enlargement process more manageable by streamlining the European Union's institutions. The treaty is also meant to give the EU more clout on in foreign affairs after the large eastward expansion of the bloc since 2004, when 12 new members joined.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday backed President Nicolas Sarkozy's call for the European Union to forget about adding new members until it finds a solution to Ireland's rejection of an EU reform treaty.
"Without the Lisbon Treaty, there is no enlargement," Sarkozy, whose country assumes the EU's rotating, six-month presidency on July 1, said. "I would find it very strange that Europe has trouble agreeing on its institutions but that it would be able to agree to allow in a 28th, 29th or 30th member," he said.
Merkel remains against taking in new members without the treaty
Both Sarkozy and Merkel strongly support the Lisbon Treaty and have urged other EU members to pursue its ratification despite Ireland's "No." They have also long made it clear that they oppose Turkey's long-term membership aspirations.
Merkel said the EU's existing institutional arrangements limited the size of the bloc to its current 27 members.
"I agree because the Nice Treaty limited the (European) Union to a membership of 27 states and for me it is unthinkable that we would change one area of the Nice Treaty without looking at the whole of the Lisbon treaty," she said in Brussels.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's longest-serving leader, shared the view.
"Without a new treaty there's no enlargement," he insisted. "One of the reasons for the Lisbon Treaty was the capacity to enlarge."
Splits on enlargement
But not everyone agreed with Berlin and Paris' calls for a freeze on enlargement until the treaty riddle was solved. The move is almost certain to affect Turkey and Croatia, who are currently negotiating their accession to the EU. Several other countries in the western Balkans are also hoping to climb up the candidacy ladder.
"The Irish vote should in no way be related to the enlargement," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik urged that Croatia "should not become the first victim of the Irish referendum."
"We have to keep our word, it would be a wrong signal to the Balkan states to put a question mark over enlargement," she said.
Seven EU nations have yet to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.