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EU: Ministers Meet To Discuss Response To Irish Rejection Of Reform Treaty

(AFP) EU foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg for talks on how to respond to the Irish rejection of the EU's Lisbon reform treaty.

The Irish rejection came as a shock to EU leaders, and it means that the Lisbon Treaty cannot come into effect next January as originally foreseen.

But a surprising development since the Irish vote is how many EU governments have expressed continuing support for the treaty, which, formally speaking, should be considered dead after such a rejection by one of the member states.

The resistance began immediately the Irish "no" result was known. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said ratifications of the treaty will continue among the member states.

So far, the national parliaments of 18 member states have ratified the treaty. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia, which currently holds the EU Presidency, said on arrival in Luxembourg that he expects more ratifications.

But he acknowledged he had no immediate solution to hand, and he cautioned that it would be "risky" for EU countries to take a position that they are going to save the treaty.

In London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would discuss the dilemma when he sees Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen. But Brown made clear that he sees no grounds for overturning the Irish veto itself.

"The legal position on the European treaty is very clear, that all 27 members must sign and therefore ratify the treaty before it comes into force; it is for each member to decide its own process for doing so," he said.

But even Brown, whose country is traditionally resistant to formal European unity, suggested that a way must be found to proceed with the envisaged reforms, and that the Irish themselves must find the solution.

"I feel a short period of reflection is necessary for the Irish to put forward their proposals about how they will deal with this, and we look forward to the Irish coming to the European Council on Thursday [June 18] with a view on what should be done," Brown said.

Significantly, Brown said the British process of ratification will continue, and the treaty should have royal assent by the end of the week.

The Lisbon Treaty is a complicated, 350-page document designed to streamline the working of the union's leadership bodies. It would reduce the number of occasions on which member states could use their veto power, and make more decisions based on majority voting. It would also create the individual offices of EU president and foreign minister, to give the EU a stronger profile on the international stage.

Meanwhile, a firm advocate of the treaty, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, is in Prague for talks with East European leaders. Sarkozy, who has called the Irish veto a "hiccup," is seen as likely to put pressure especially on the Czech government, whose commitment to Lisbon appears to be wobbling in the aftermath of the Irish vote.

If the Czechs were to stop their ratification process, that could prompt other Euroskeptic members like Poland to do the same. Under those circumstances, keeping the Lisbon Treaty alive would seem a forlorn hope.

However, speaking in Prague, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk gave no hint of wavering.

"The results of the referendum in Ireland should by no means discourage European Union leaders from continuing working with partners such as Croatia as far as Croatia's European aspirations are concerned," Tusk said. "We should also work with determination and consistency on European prospects for Ukraine and Serbia."

With more prospective members lining up to join the union, Brussels may well feel the increasing need for institutional streamlining.

compiled from agency reports