The European Commission put on a brave face yesterday in the wake of Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Reform Treaty, which has thrown the EU into crisis.
It could not have been a worse Friday the 13th for the bloc as Irish voters decided to reject a treaty which had already been amended following its rejection by France and the Netherlands in referendums three years ago.
"We recognise the Irish vote but ratification from the other member states has to continue. The treaty is still alive," Commission President José Manuel Barroso declared in Brussels after the bad news broke from Dublin. "Our position is very clear. Eighteen member states have already ratified the Lisbon Treaty while one rejected it.
We must now continue with the ratification process in the other member states while continuing in a collective way to find a solution on how to move forward."
According to current rules the treaty has to be ratified by all member states before it comes into force.
The Irish vote means that plans to have it come into force next January 1 have fizzled out and the EU will now have to decide on how to find a way out, if there is one.
The main discussion will move on to Brussels where EU leaders will be meeting at the end of next week in their mid-yearly traditional summit.
President Barroso said the Irish Prime Minister will give a presentation to EU leaders and also explain how his country intends to help resolve this issue.
"This is a collective responsibility. All 27 member states already signed the treaty and they have a collective responsibility to ratify. That is why we need to continue moving forward. The Irish rejection did not solve the issues which the treaty tried to address such as a better decision making and more efficiency in an enlarged EU. We will now have to see how to reach that aim while respecting everyone's decision."
Malta is affected by the Irish rejection as new provisions negotiated by the government and included in the treaty will not come into effect as expected next January.
One of the first effects will be that Malta will lose its sixth seat in the European Parliament provided for through the new treaty.
Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil called the result very disappointing.
"It is bad news for Europe and bad news for Malta as we now stand to lose our sixth seat in the European Parliament," he said when contacted.
"There is no question that the Irish 'no' vote puts the entire ratification process in trouble. Perhaps the time has come for countries who want to take European integration forward to be able to do so without being held hostage by recalcitrant countries."
Member states who did not want to go along should be free to do so but why should they be able to stop all the rest from moving on, he asked.
"Perhaps it is time for them to decide whether they want to stay in the European Union."
Foreign Minister Tonio Borg was equally disappointed. "The more vociferous 'no' vote has won because of the low turnout," Dr Borg told timesofmalta.com.
He said that unless the new impasse was resolved within about six months, the allocation of Malta's sixth seat in the European Parliament as from the next elections was unlikely to happen.
The Irish referendum was the only one in the EU as all the other 26 member states decided to ratify the treaty through their parliamentary chambers. Close to 54 per cent of voters said No to the treaty, as about half the three million Irish voters turned out at the polling stations.
Ireland, one of the main beneficiaries of EU accession, had already stunned the EU in 2001 when a similar referendum had rejected the Nice Treaty. The solution was another referendum a year later when the Irish then decided to endorse it and end the EU's temporary crises.
The Lisbon Treaty is the product of eight years of discussions between member states and the European Parliament aimed at making the EU and its decision-making structures leaner and more efficient following the latest enlargements which saw the EU growing from 15 to 27 member states.
The treaty reshapes the 27-nation EU's institutions to take account of the union's enlargement since 2004 by creating a full-time president, increasing the European Parliament's powers and extending the areas to which the EU's system of qualified majority voting applies.
Eighteen member states have already ratified the treaty, including Malta with a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives.
The others are Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us