Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said he was alarmed at the reaction of large EU countries, particularly Germany, to Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.
The EU needs to stick together, Junker said
Juncker, whose name has surfaced as a candidate for president of the European Union if the reform treaty passes, warned that Europe's largest countries, particularly Germany and France, had shown a lack of sensitivity to Ireland.
"We aren't going to overcome the crisis when we lecture the Irish or when we put them in the corner," Juncker said after a meeting of the EU's 27 foreign ministers on Monday, June 16.
It would be "arrogant" to tell the Irish that their votes don't count because they are from a small country, Juncker said in an article in the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. Small countries don't like it when big countries lecture them, Juncker said in the article, which was published Tuesday.
Yet it would also be a mistake for Europe to leave Ireland behind, Juncker said. He particularly criticized German and French leaders who hinted that the ratification could go forward despite the Irish "no" vote.
EU grapples with Ireland question
Are the needs of small countries being ignored?
Less than a week ago, a majority of Irish rejected the EU treaty, which is designed to make the bloc more efficient and give it a stronger voice in the world. While there wasn't any one issue which sunk the treaty, voters seemed concerned that it would overrule national laws on sensitive issues such as abortion, taxation and military neutrality.
At their first meeting after the vote on Monday, foreign ministers discussed whether Ireland could be offered concessions which could convince Irish voters to pass a new referendum on the Lisbon Treaty later this year.
Some suggested drafting a declaration which would include assurances that Ireland could opt out of a number of key areas.
Ireland is the only EU country whose constitution requires new EU treaties to be approved via a referendum. While 18 national parliaments have already said yes to Lisbon, the treaty cannot come into force until it is ratified by all 27 member states.
Germany wants decision this year
Juncker said big EU countries are being arrogant
While most EU ministers wanted to wait before deciding how to proceed, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that a solution would need to be found "this year."
Steinmeier also suggested that "the Danish model from 1992 could be a model in this crisis."
In 1992, Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union out of the European Community. However, a repeat referendum a year later approved the treaty after the Danish government won legally-binding opt-outs in such areas as defense, justice and citizenship.
Keeping Europe together
EU foreign ministers want Ireland to figure out a plan
So far, no one has openly called for the expansion of a two-speed Europe, where some countries would move forward with integration while leaving the others out. This already exists in some areas, such as the common currency (not all countries use the euro) and the Schengen Agreement (not all countries allow free movement.)
"It is hard to imagine that a two-speed Europe could be created in questions such as decision-making procedures and the institutions," said Latvia's Maris Riekstins.
But members were adamant on Monday that the Lisbon Treaty was still viable.
British Foreign Minister David Miliband said that Monday's meeting had left three things clear: the Irish vote needs to be respected, the Irish government needs some time to decide the next move and Europe needs to "stick together."
EU to ponder what went wrong
Will the Irish vote again?
And while Austria's Ursula Plassnik said it would be unfair to corner Ireland and force the country to undergo a revote, Denmark's Per Stig Moeller said that since the Irish government had signed the treaty, it was now up to Ireland to find a solution.
The EU executive has commissioned a survey to try and find out what went wrong in Ireland, and most ministers concurred on Monday that Dublin would know best.
"There will not be any attempt from the outside, from member states or from Brussels, to influence or push the Irish government in some way," Latvia's Riekstins said.
Yet Ireland might not be the only stumbling block to the treaty coming intoforce. The Czech Republic's government has referred the treaty text to its constitutional court.
European leaders will continue to discuss the Irish vote at their regular summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.