DUBLIN (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters greeted French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Dublin on Monday, angry after he said Ireland would have to hold another referendum on an EU reform treaty rejected last month.
Many chanted “No means No” as Sarkozy arrived for talks with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
Sarkozy, whose country holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, has said he wanted to visit Ireland to “listen and understand” the reasons Irish voters rejected the treaty.
“To come to Ireland would be to meddle and not to come would be indifferent,” Sarkozy said at a news conference. “What would you, the Irish press, rather? Meddling or indifference?”
The treaty is a replacement for the EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 and the culmination of eight years of diplomatic wrangling but it cannot come into force until it has been ratified by all 27 member states.
“We don’t have a miracle solution that can be found at the wave of the wand,” Sarkozy said through an interpreter.
“We want the Irish people to feel that their choice has been respected, has been listened to, but we also want people to realize that very shortly, once Italy has done so, 24 countries will have ratified the Lisbon Treaty.”
Sarkozy said there was no “turnkey solution to a complex problem” but anti-treaty campaigners insisted that the European Union could not demand a second vote just because it did not like the result of the first one.
“There is no going back on this, unless they don’t want to accept the democratic vote, which is absolute tyranny,” said 55-year-old protestor Patrick Walsh, wearing a sandwich board bearing a picture of Sarkozy and the words “No and No again”.
Cowen said he needed time to analyze the result of the referendum before suggesting a remedy.
“The Irish government, for its part, has made no decision in relation to a second referendum,” Cowen said.
Sarkozy said no cut-off date had been set for Ireland to come up with a solution. European parliamentary elections in 2009 were “simply a fact” rather than a deadline and could go ahead under either old rules or those laid out in the treaty.
Cowen said the elections were “one of many considerations”.
“We have European Parliament elections in June 2009 and we need to bring some certainty for the basis on which those elections will be held,” he said.
Sarkozy said failure to ratify the treaty would mean there was no mechanism in place to further expand the union but that he hoped a way out of the diplomatic impasse would have been found by the time EU hopeful Croatia came to joining.
“The best case is Croatia’s accession would not happen before the end of 2010, beginning of 2011 so I very much hope, for heaven’s sake, that in three year’s time we will have found some way out,” Sarkozy said.
Fishermen also protested outside at high fuel prices and EU quotas but Sarkozy found support among farmers who welcomed his recent criticism of EU trade chief Peter Mandelson for giving away too many farm concessions in world trade talks.
“Under no circumstances will we accept what Peter Mandelson has offered,” said 52-year-old dairy farmer Frank Byrne. “We’d look to France for our biggest ally in Europe.”
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) took out full page adverts in newspapers on Monday, reminding Cowen he had pledged to veto any unacceptable World Trade Organization (WTO) deal.
“If the WTO deal on the table this week were to go through, it would profoundly damage support in rural Ireland for a future Lisbon (treaty) referendum,” IFA President Padraig Walshe said.
Writing by Paul Hoskins, editing by Sami Aboudi