EU leaders move to keep treaty alive amid fears of permanent rift

Deep cracks appeared yesterday in the efforts of European governments to put a brave face on Ireland's rejection of the European Union reform treaty.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg today – and heads of government meeting in Brussels from Thursday – will gauge whether there is any chance of keeping the treaty alive by bouncing Ireland into holding a second referendum.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who takes over the EU's presidency next month, and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, nominally supported by Britain's Gordon Brown, plan to push for the ratification of the treaty by the other 26 EU nations. They hope that Ireland will then buckle under pressure and fall into line next year.

The Prime Minister has made it clear he will not postpone the approval of the treaty by the House of Lords on Wednesday although that will lead to angry protests in the Commons by Tories today. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, is calling for Parliament's approval of the treaty to be halted. But there were also signals that Mr Brown will tell EU leaders at the Brussels summit that he is prepared to see the treaty ditched rather than have a two-tier Europe.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, suggested at the weekend that the EU may have to write off its seven years' work on streamlining and strengthening European institutions. Mr Miliband described the Lisbon treaty as "an old agenda". He suggested that Britain wanted to move on to a "new agenda": tackling terrorism, climate change and economic insecurity. This implies that, despite assurances that the ratification process will continue in Britain, the Government is content to let the Lisbon treaty die. "The rules are absolutely clear," Mr Miliband said. "If all 27 countries do not pass the Lisbon Treaty then it does not pass into law."

Mr Miliband said it was up to the Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, to advise other EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday if the treaty could be saved by a second referendum. "There can be no question of bulldozing or bamboozling or ignoring the Irish vote." The idea of a two-speed Europe, or a Europe of different divisions "doesn't accord with the realities today," he said.

Can the Treaty of Lisbon, formerly known as the draft European constitution, be rescued? Or will the ingenuity of all Europe's politicians and bureaucrats be unable to put the "Humpty" treaty together again?

The most immediate threat comes from the Czech Republic. The country's supreme court is to rule in the autumn whether EU reform treaty is compatible with the Czech constitution. The President, Vaclav Klaus – a Eurosceptic with no direct executive power – has called for the entire ratification process to be abandoned following the Irish vote. If the Czech Republic refuses to ratify, there could be no "gang of 26" to cajole Ireland into holding a second referendum.

Rumblings have also started about a permanent split in the EU. Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, said those countries which still believe in greater European integration should heed the message of the Irish "no" and the French and Dutch rejections of the European constitution in 2005. "Given that it is increasingly hard to get all states moving together, then probably the only thing that is left to us is a Club of the Few," Mr Juncker said. The French newspaper Le Monde also called for an "avant garde" of EU nations to push ahead alone.

The prospect of an EU "premier league" would alarm the British Government but would be hard, if not impossible, to arrange in practice. The three nations which have rejected the EU reform process are already members of the single currency "hard core". Two of them, France and the Netherlands, are founder members from 1958 and natural candidates for any "avant-garde".

In Britain, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said it was now "highly unlikely" that the treaty would be ratified in its current form. "Tactically, I can see other European leaders saying we want a multi-speed Europe and ripping it to bits. That is a bad thing. It would be better for us to complete our parliamentary homework next week". But Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, one of his predecessors, said it was a "depressing moment" that could "be the beginning of the end of the European Union as we know it".

The Lisbon Treaty was an attempt to rescue the draft constitution destroyed in 2005 by the French and the Dutch. Its supporters say it is a limited and sensible attempt to allow the EU to operate with 27, and shortly – when Croatia joins – 28 member states. National vetoes would disappear in 50, mostly technical, policy areas. A new semi-permanent European Council president would become the visible "face" of the EU and co-ordinate the thrice-yearly summits.

Opponents claim that the treaty would be a lurch towards federalism. In theory, the new rules were to take effect next year. At the very least, they have been suspended for 12 months. European commission officials say that they can limp on with the old rules but the EU would, inevitably, become weaker and less responsive to new problems, such as those listed by Mr Miliband.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick