Ahead of EU Summit Merkel Rejects 'Two-Speed Europe' Idea

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said that discussion of a "two-speed" Europe was "negligent" but insisted that the EU had to press forward with Lisbon Treaty reforms. Still, no decisions are likely from Brussels at the two-day summit.

Despite Ireland's "no" to the Lisbon Treaty, Europe has to stay together. That was the message delivered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday during her speech before parliament in Berlin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been thinking a lot about Ireland these days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been thinking a lot about Ireland these days.

"European treaties must be developed on the basis of consensus," she said in her speech. There should be room for different levels of integration when it comes to issues like the common currency or border-free travel, she explained: "But when it comes to institutional questions -- like the rights of the European Parliament or the responsibilities of the European Commission -- we need unanimity."

With that, Merkel made it clear that she is not interested in a "two-speed" solution to the crisis set off by Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum last Thursday. Indeed, despite comments immediately after the referendum by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Ireland might consider a short "break" from the EU, Merkel could hardly have been clearer.

"Discussions about a two-speed Europe, a core Europe, do not help us at all," she said in Berlin. "I think this discussion does not help us achieve our goals and is even negligent. One cannot have an enlarged European Union and then, whenever a problem pops up, say we should have a core Europe."

Merkel made her comments just before flying off to Brussels for the two-day European Union summit beginning on Thursday. The summit brings together leaders from the EU's 27 member states and will likely focus on ways to overcome Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

The treaty was to have streamlined EU decision-making, consolidated the bloc's foreign policy and given more power to the European Parliament. Ireland was the only country where the treaty was put to a referendum, and many of those advocating a rejection of the treaty said it was little more than an attempt to push through a slightly revised version of the European Constitution that was rejected by referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

But even as Merkel turned away from the idea of a "two-speed" Europe -- one that would have a core group of more integrated members, with other countries more loosely tied to Brussels -- she also said that the ratification process must continue and that there is no time for a "period of reflection."

"Our goal is that of implementing the reforms as quickly as possible," Merkel said. "Europeans expect that we play a role in shaping globalization. For that, we need the Lisbon Treaty."

The United Kingdom provided the treaty a boost by ratifying it on Thursday. Still, comments made prior to the start of Thursday's summit seem to indicate that no major decisions will be made this time around.

After meeting with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen on Thursday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the next EU summit, scheduled for October, would be "an appropriate occasion" to talk about how the bloc should move forward after the Ireland veto. Cowen echoed Barroso by saying that "it was too early to say" if a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty might be held. Many have held out the possibility of offering Ireland additional guarantees to be attached to the Lisbon Treaty, thus allowing a re-vote.

Ireland, though, won't be the only topic on the agenda this week in Brussels. Soaring fuel and food prices will also be discussed. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had circulated the idea of a fuel tax cut across the EU to assist fishermen, truckers and farmers staggering under higher prices. Germany, however, rejected the idea on Thursday, with Merkel saying: "In our view, financial policy intervention, which is being discussed again and again … should be avoided."

Other ideas on the table include a so-called "Robin Hood" tax on oil company profits. In an interview with a Portuguese paper on Thursday, Barroso said "we in the European Commission are not opposed to this." Conservative Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt rejected the idea, saying on Thursday that it would make more sense to cut income tax and have people work longer hours so they have more money to cope with the soaring prices.

"I am asking myself … whether we might ease up on income taxes to make work pay even further, so that people could react to the fact that an increase in the petrol price could be met by working some extra hours," he told reporters on Thursday.



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