/ 11 July 2008

Sarkozy vows to push through Lisbon treaty

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said on Thursday that there had been no need for Ireland to vote on the European Union’s major reform package and pledged a quick fix to last month’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty by the Irish.

Outlining the aims of his presidency of the EU to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Sarkozy made it plain he wanted to press ahead with the treaty. He told Poland’s President, Lech Kaczynski, that he had to keep his word on the treaty, warned that a failure to agree on a new way of running the EU could result in a multi-speed Europe, and regretted the ”mistakes” that had been made when the EU admitted 10 new members, most of post-communist Europe, in 2004.

Sarkozy said that the institutional changes involved in the Lisbon treaty, which would streamline the way the EU is run, were a matter for Parliaments and not for referendums. ”That’s a political choice. It’s perfectly democratic,” he said. ”But now we have the problem of the no vote in Ireland.”

He said he would make a visit to Ireland in 10 days — the first official trip of his EU presidency — and would come up with ”a method and a solution” by the end of the year at the latest, in time for EU summits either in October or December.

Despite the impasse triggered by the Irish vote, Sarkozy insisted that the Lisbon treaty could not be reopened, while emphasising that no new members could join the EU unless the treaty was finally adopted.

”This is not blackmail,” he said. He argued that the EU should have overhauled its decision-making before the ”big-bang” enlargement four years ago.

”That was a mistake and we’re paying the price for it today … We mustn’t make the same mistake again.”

While Sarkozy highlighted policies on climate change, defence, agriculture and immigration as his priorities for the next six months setting the EU agenda, it was clear that his focus is the Irish quandary and charting a way out of the impasse.

He reserved his sternest remarks for Kaczynski of Poland, who has suspended ratification of the treaty following the Irish upset. The Polish president had signed the treaty last December and had to keep his word. ”It’s a question of morality.”

Sarkozy came under attack in the Parliament for his announcement that he would attend the opening of the Olympics in Beijing next month, unlike British Prime Minister Gordon Brown or the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

There was no point in boycotting a quarter of mankind, Sarkozy said when accused of putting French economic interests ahead of human rights.

Sarkozy said last week that he was waiting for the outcome of talks between China and the Dalai Lama before deciding whether to attend. Hans-Gert Pöttering, the European Parliament president, said he was staying away because Beijing’s talks with the Tibetan spiritual leader had brought no progress.

”Humiliating China is not the best way,” said Sarkozy. – guardian.co.uk