Sarkozy to defy Irish referendum

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, intends to pressurise Irish voters to back the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum after ruling out any possibility of renegotiating the draft constitution for the European Union.

France assumed the presidency of the EU for six months last Tuesday and Sarkozy is to travel to Dublin on July 21 to ram home the point in talks with the 26-County Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.

The French strategy is aimed at isolating Ireland after it rejected a closely-fought referendum on the treaty. Ireland was the only country to hold a vote on the treaty in its current form after it was rejected by France and Holland in 2006.

Speaking in Paris, Sarkozy made it clear there would be no reworking of the document simply because it had been turned down by Ireland.

“There will be no treaty part III,” he declared.

“If the perspective of a second vote in Ireland has been raised it is because it has happened before,” Sarkozy told journalists, referring to Ireland’s second referendum on the Nice treaty in 2002.

“We need some kind of vote to get out of the situation -- in parliament or in a referendum, I don’t know. But when democratic society says ‘no’, you need a democratic solution,” he said, without irony.

And speaking to the European Parliament yesterday [Thursday], he said there would be no new Treaty negotiations or inter-governmental conferences to determine a new approach.

In a confrontational address, the French President denounced Ireland for holding a referendum at all and accused those EU leaders who are reluctant to proceed with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty of “cowardice”.

Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald slammed the comments, which she said were “ill-judged”.

“The fact is that is not his call to make. The Treaty needs the ratification of all member states and the Irish people have rejected it. The only way forward is to negotiate a new Treaty deal.

“Mr Sarkozy’s comment that the holding of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was ‘wrong’ in the first place illustrates just how detached European leaders are from the people they are supposed to serve the interests of. The Treaty has been put to five referendums and on three occasions it fell. Rather than chastise the people a productive and positive route forward would be to simply listen and learn.”

Of the other European leaders, only Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, has threatened to block the treaty pending a ruling by his country’s highest court. He recently hit out at French efforts to put the treaty “back on track” and ignore Irish public opinion.

“I expect a lot of pressure to create a European Union a la France,” he said. “Our view is different and we must make an effort to ensure the EU does not develop in the way France and the rejected Lisbon treaty are pushing for.”

EU leaders are due to meet in October to hear a progress report from Taoiseach Brian Cowen on how Ireland can move forward. Mr Cowen told the Dail this week that the Dublin government’s analysis of the Lisbon Treaty referendum result is expected to be available by September.

The Taoiseach said his government would work with the European Commission “to see, based on our preliminary analysis, to what extent we can move matters forward”. It was “a difficult situation”, which would “probably require further discussion”, he added.

The Treaty was rejected by the 26-County electorate by 53.4% to 46.6%, a margin which would have been greater had the Six Counties been included. According to an analysis of the results of an opinion poll carried out for the European Commission in the immediate aftermath of the result, some 74 per cent vote of manual workers voted ‘No’ to the Treaty, with a comparable ‘Yes’ vote among wealthy individuals. In addition, a majority of women and young people voted ‘No’ while a majority of men and older people voted ‘Yes’.

While lack of knowledge of the Treaty was cited as the most common reason for voting ‘No’ the second reason given was to protect Irish identity, followed by safeguarding Irish neutrality.

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