Irish Voters Reject EU Reform Treaty

DUBLIN -- Ireland's voters have dealt the European Union a stunning diplomatic setback by rejecting its blueprint for reform in referendum results announced Friday.

The Irish government was the only member of the 27-nation EU required by its own constitution to put the Treaty of Lisbon to a popular vote -- and was left reeling when 53.4 percent of voters rejected the 260-page document in Thursday's referendum.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he respected the voters' verdict -- but sidestepped reporters' questions as to whether the treaty was now dead.

"I wish to make it clear to our European partners that Ireland has absolutely no wish to halt the progress of a union which has been the greatest force for peace and prosperity in the history of Europe," said Cowen, who faces potential isolation and embarrassment at an EU summit next week.

Voters cited myriad fears over the rapid growth and ambitions of the EU. Anti-treaty groups from the far left and right mobilized "No" voters by claiming that the treaty would empower EU chiefs in Brussels, Belgium, to force Ireland to change core policies -- including its low business tax rates, its military neutrality and its ban on abortion.

While Cowen stressed the need to keep Irish diplomatic options open, others in his government emphasized that Ireland faced diplomatic isolation because it could not ask people to vote again on essentially the same thing.

The treaty seeks to create more powerful positions of EU president and foreign policy chief, reduce the policy areas that require unanimous support from members, and give the European Parliament more say in scrutinizing policies. Most proposals were originally contained in the EU's aborted constitution, which French and Dutch voters shot down in 2005.