Nicolas Sarkozy said Ireland must vote again on EU Lisbon treaty, angering Irish politicians
By Henry Samuel in Paris
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France angered politicians in Ireland by declaring that the country will have to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
“The Irish will have to vote again,” Mr Sarkozy told deputies from his UMP party in a meeting in his office, several of those present confirmed.
He also said he would “veto any enlargement” until a new treaty had been pushed through.
Mr Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, is due to travel to Ireland next week to “listen” to why the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty on June 12.
Last week he said he hoped to find a solution to the Irish issue by the end of the year saying time was running out, but stopped short of suggesting they vote again.
Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs Micheál Martin said he couldn’t comment on Mr Sarkozy’s reported comments, but that the government was examining “all the options” following the rejection of the Lisbon treaty.
However, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said that if Mr Sarkozy’s comments were confirmed, he “has seriously put his foot in it”.
“We were given to understand that one of the principal reasons for the president’s visit to Ireland next week was to allow him to hear the views of Irish people as to what should now be done. However, if he has already made his mind up on this issue, it will be a rather hollow listening.”
Mr Gilmore added: “We need that time and space and President Sarkozy should be told that in blunt terms.”
“It would be extraordinary if Irish voters were made to vote twice on this EU Treaty before British voters got to vote once”, said Britain’s shadow foreign secretary William Hague, who said getting countries to vote twice in the hope of them changing their minds was not “very democratic”.
“The best thing for EU leaders to do is simply to respect the Irish people’s verdict, drop this deeply unpopular Treaty and get on with delivering what matters to people, like healthier European economies”, he said.
Mr Sarkozy’s trip next week may not be helped by the presence – confirmed yesterday – of his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who some in Ireland blame for the No vote. Before it, the outspoken left-winger had reportedly suggested that it would be bad form for Ireland to vote no given the amount of EU aid it has received over the years.
The leader of the Socialist group in the European parliament, Martin Schulz last week urged Mr Sarkozy to leave him at home.
Mr Sarkozy’s office yesterday sought to put a more diplomatic spin on the President’s unequivocal comment, insisting that he would not go to Dublin with an action plan to present to Taoiseach Brian Cowen, despite reports that a ready-made plan is being drawn up.
“The president is coming to listen to the Irish, to listen to what Brian Cowen tells him. He is not coming to make proposals,” one Sarkozy aide said.
“It is not up to us to make proposals,” he added. “It is up to the Irish to tell us what the problem is and what they need to resolve it.”
Newspaper Le Monde said one possible sweetener to convince the Irish to ratify the treaty would be to reverse the planned streamlining of the European Commission, retaining the current system of one commissioner per country. Ireland would thus keep a seat.
But the Elysée said that such an idea was “in the air rather than on the table”.
Other options include offering Ireland guarantees on neutrality, taxation and abortion, the paper said.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said yesterday he did not expect any more countries to reject the Lisbon treaty after the Irish No vote, following assurances from the presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic that they would not try and block ratification.
Mr Sarkozy has championed the Lisbon treaty and is adamant that it be pushed through before France’s European presidency runs out at the end of the year.