EU faces split over enlargement at Brussels summit

The European Union was left facing a bruising political split on Friday as member states fell out over whether Ireland's rejection of the bloc's Lisbon Treaty meant that it could not take in any new members.

"Without the Lisbon Treaty, there will be no enlargement," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said bluntly in the early hours of Friday morning after meeting with EU heads of state and government.

"You cannot link the two things, enlargement and the fiasco of the referendum. Poland will never agree to such a statement," Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk retorted.

On June 12, Irish voters rejected the treaty in a referendum. Since the text has to be ratified by all 27 member states before it comes into force, that means that the treaty has, at present, no chance of coming in.

At a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, union heavyweights lined up to say that a final rejection of the treaty would put a stop to enlargement, in what observers saw as an attempt to urge Ireland and fellow treaty waverer the Czech Republic to find a way to ratify the text.

The leaders argue that without Lisbon, the EU will be governed by the Nice Treaty, which was written to govern a bloc of 27 member states.

That being the case, they say that the only way to bring in new members would be to rewrite parts of the treaty - something which they have already ruled out.

"There will be no cherry-picking in the Nice Treaty in this area. There will be no majority for this," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who led efforts to broker a deal on the Lisbon treaty 12 months ago.

Sarkozy and Merkel's stance met with swift rejection from pro- enlargement member states such as Finland, Sweden and those who joined the bloc in 2004, who see the extension of the bloc both as a moral obligation and as a way of increasing their own security.

"I don't agree (with the argument that the EU cannot enlarge with Nice), especially as concerns Croatia and the countries which are already finalizing the talks for membership," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"Definitely (the EU can enlarge) - it's not impossible. It would be easier with Lisbon, but with the goodwill of others you can do it," Tusk said.

It was also rejected in Croatia, the closest state to EU accession, which experts have tipped to join in 2010 or 2011.

"There is a solution for Croatia," Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said at a cabinet meeting in the capital, Zagreb, without elaborating.

President Stjepan Mesic backed Sanader, his political rival, saying "if something was agreed, it must be implemented."

But Croatia itself looked fated to become the biggest bone of contention in the row, with Merkel and Sarkozy ruling out its entry under Nice rules, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi saying that it had come so far that it should enter the bloc regardless.

On the face of it, the statements of Merkel and Sarkozy look to have ended any argument on future expansion, since decisions on enlarging the bloc have to be taken by unanimity.

But that analysis does not take into account the resentment the statements are likely to cause both in pro-enlargement EU members and in the accession hopefuls themselves.

"It's not Turkey, Ukraine, Serbia or Croatia who rejected the treaty, so you can't ask them to bear the consequences," Tusk said, according to dpa.

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