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Europe

Germany Against Irish Pressure as EU Meets in No Vote Shadow

The German government is firmly against applying pressure to Ireland over the ratification of the EU's reform treaty following the Irish referendum last week. The "no" vote is likely to to dominate the EU summer summit.

Anti Lisbon Graffiti Dublin

Europe could be banging its head against the wall over the result of the Irish referendum

Speaking ahead of the EU summit in Brussels which runs for Thursday and Friday, the German officials said Ireland had to be given time to analyze and assess the situation.

"We are not going to point a pistol at them," a high-ranking source said. "We must give the Irish government time to consult."

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen is expected to provide an initial analysis of the situation when EU heads of state and government meet over supper in Brussels on Thursday.

The German government sources would not be drawn on deadlines for the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, hammered out last year in an attempt to replace the failed constitutional process.

"It depends on the Irish ... The Irish must tell us what they would rather have - Nice or something else," they said in reference to the 2001 Treaty of Nice, agreed before the large-scale expansion of the EU into formerly communist Eastern Europe.

EU leaders regard the arrangements under the Treaty of Nice as too cumbersome for an EU grown to 27 members.

The sources would not be drawn on the ratification process in other EU countries where potential problems loom, such as the Czech Republic and Poland.

Ratification is being held up in Germany by a legal challenge laid before the Constitutional Court.

Ratification by Britain - the upper house of the British parliament is expected to pass the required legislation late Wednesday - would give the process across Europe a boost, they said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is to address the German parliament on the issue early Thursday before leaving for Brussels.

EU says no issues will be eclipsed by Ireland

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso addresses the media on the result of Irish Referendum

Barroso's face belies the discomfort the EU feels

The EU leaders gathering at the summit are meant to discuss matters of real concern for real people, while thousands of truckers and farmers gather outside their meeting room to vent their anger at surging oil prices.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who will act as chair for the last time as president of the European Union, insists that "not a single item has been dropped from the official agenda because of what happened in Ireland."

"Leaders will want to show that they are paying attention to what matters to consumers, which is oil and food prices," one diplomat points out.

EU heads of government and state are understandably keen not to appear fiddling while Rome burns.

But despite their best intentions, EU leaders will inevitably focus on the institutional chaos sparked by Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty during the regular summer summit in Brussels.

The original plan was for German Chancellor Merkel to address her colleagues over dinner and outline the job descriptions of the new posts being created by the treaty: A president of the European Council, representing national governments, and a high representative in charge of the bloc's foreign and security policy.

Treaty appointments give way ro referendum autopsy

Taoiseach Brian Cowen speaks to the media media at Goverment Buildings, Dublin

Cowen will address the EU with a report on the Irish vote

Instead, that discussion is likely to be sidelined by the presentation from Irish Prime Minister Cowen, who will be asked to explain why he allowed his countrymen to throw such a huge spanner into the works of the EU.

This is the first time that EU leaders are meeting since the referendum in Ireland.

Designed to make the expanded 27-member bloc more efficient and more influential on the world stage, the treaty is supposed to replace a planned European Constitution, which was itself rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

After the treaty's approval in October, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proudly proclaimed that Europe was at last free to "move away from the institutional inward-looking debate of the past" and deal with real problems like jobs, globalization and climate change.

Exactly eight months later, Brown and his colleagues are reluctantly finding themselves dwelling on the same issues they hoped they had left behind.

No-one quite knows how to pull the EU out of its latest institutional quagmire.

Diplomats say leaders will listen carefully to what Cowen has to say, and will then take time to think things over.

Confusion cited as reason for "no" vote

A member of the NO campaign in The Lisbon Treaty Referendum celebrates the official result of The Lisbon Treaty Referendum in Dublin

Leaked reports suggest Ireland voted out of confusion

According to leaked results of an EU survey published on Tuesday by the Irish Independent, many of the people who voted no in the referendum did so either because they did not understand the treaty, or because they had other concerns, such as immigration and unemployment.

Moreover, 70 percent of those who rejected the treaty thought it could be easily renegotiated. This is not the case, and diplomats say no quick fixes are in sight.

One possible solution is for Ireland to be granted a number of concessions before being asked to vote again, either in the autumn or early next year.

In the meantime, leaders have called for the remaining eight national parliaments to ratify the treaty - the latest to do so could be Britain on Wednesday evening - and have avoided talking about a "two-speed Europe," whereby some member states would go ahead with further integration, leaving the skeptics behind.

"We want to continue with a one-speed Europe," Jansa insisted on Tuesday.

The Slovenian premier has been playing down the impact of the Irish vote, pointing out that the euro rose against the dollar in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

He wants Thursday and Friday's summit to stick to the original agenda.

Food, fuel hikes and world poverty still on the agenda

Several decens of trucks block the hard shoulders of the A6 highway near Guitiriz, Galicia, northwestern Spain, 10 June 2008. Spanish haulers are holding an indefinitive strike against fuel prices

Fuel price hikes have prompted strikes across Europe

High up in the order of business is a discussion on rising petrol prices. Leaders want to monitor prices in order to reduce speculation, improve energy efficiency and increase transparency on the oil markets.

"The days of low energy prices are over," Jansa explained.

As regards food prices, the EU is pointing its finger at rising demand from rapidly-developing nations such as China and India, and insists that its use of biofuels is not to blame.

"Only two per cent of the EU surface that could be intended for food is now used for biofuels, so this cannot be the reason (for rising food prices)," the Slovenian premier argued.

Again, no-one is expecting the problem of expensive food to be resolved overnight, and the summit will not even attempt to do so.

Leaders will instead express deep concern about the situation in Zimbabwe, they will officially welcome Slovakia into the EU's common currency area, and they will reiterate their pledge to do more to help the starving masses of the world.

"There is important stuff on the agenda, apart from the Irish referendum," a British diplomat said.

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