BRUSSELS (AFP) — EU leaders disagreed Friday over whether the 27-strong bloc could continue to welcome in new members without the streamlining Lisbon treaty rejected by Irish voters last week.
At the end of a two-day crisis summit in Brussels, key players such as France and German clashed with Poland and others on whether the next scheduled round of enlargement could go ahead despite the lack of the reforming treaty.
Nor was there clear agreement on the way forward in the wake of the Irish 'no' vote on a treaty that requires the unanimous endorsement of the 27 member states. The summit agreeing to revisit the issue at their next get-together in October.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country assumes the European Union's rotating six-month presidency on July 1, warned: "Without the Lisbon Treaty, there is no enlargement.
"I would find it very strange that Europe has trouble agreeing on its institutions but that it would be able to agree to allow in a 28th, 29th or 30th member," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed up Sarkozy. "I agree. The Nice Treaty effectively limits the union to 27 states," she said.
Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker said simply: "Without a new treaty there's no enlargement. One of the reasons for the Lisbon Treaty was the capacity to enlarge."
But Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk: 2The idea that the referendum in Ireland renders the European perspective for Croatia, Serbia or Ukraine impossible is unacceptable."
British diplomatic sources indicated they backed the Polish position.
Croatian President Stipe Mesic stressed that his country's accession had already been approved by the EU's 27 member nations.
Croatia is due to join the EU next, with others such as Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Turkey, Serbia and Ukraine hoping to join eventually.
The Lisbon treaty, among other reforms, was aimed at ending unilateral vetoes and streamlining decision making after the bloc expanded from 15 to 27 members with the admission in 2004 of a swathe of former communist east European states.
Despite hopes that the two-day summit might provide a way around the Irish rejection, the meeting only agreed to let Ireland report back in October on possible compromises.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said: "I made it clear that however frustrating for them, it is still simply too early to know how we are going to move forward from this point."
Sarkozy, who is poised to take over the EU's presidency next month, announced he would visit Dublin on July 11.
The top-level meeting did not even agree a common line on whether remaining member states should continue ratifying the Lisbon treaty.
Seven EU nations have yet to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, including the Czech Republic, where it is being held up by the courts. Vaclav Klaus, the fiercely eurosceptic president, has already declared it finished.
"I am not going to force MPs to back Lisbon (the treaty) and I would not bet 100 crowns on a Czech yes," Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told reporters.
Another last-minute snag emerged in London.
A judge argued that the treaty, already voted on by parliament and given royal assent, should not be ratified until the High Court had delivered its verdict on a legal appeal that there should have been an Irish-style public referendum on the document.
"Ratification will not take place of course until we have had the judgement," Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters.
In their final communique, EU heads of government merely noted that "more time was needed to analyse the situation."
The Lisbon treaty, designed to replace the EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, was intended to be the final piece of institutional reform. It was intend to free up the bloc to concentrate on issues such as energy, the environment and relations with Russia.
However, even side issues at this Brussels summit aroused little consensus.
A French plan for proposed tax breaks on fuel in the light of rising oil prices found little support.
At Britain's urging however, the EU nations did threaten President Robert Mugabe's regime with more sanctions, seeking to exert pressure ahead of next week's run-off presidential vote in Zimbabwe.
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