European leaders vowed Saturday to press ahead with a major EU reform treaty despite Ireland's shock rejection as its prime minister faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of the campaign.
The referendum result against the Lisbon Treaty has pitched the 27-nation European Union into turmoil because the document, which aims to streamline EU decision-making after recent expansion, has to be approved by all states.
Ireland voted "no" by 53.4% to 46.6% in a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who led the "yes" vote. Turnout was 53%, higher than expected.
But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insists the Lisbon Treaty is still "alive" and has urged other countries to continue ratifying it, as 18 EU members have already done.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday echoed that view, saying: "The others must continue ratification... so that the Irish incident does not become a crisis." France takes over the rotating EU presidency on July 1.
France's European affairs minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet went further, telling Europe 1 radio there was "no other solution" than for Ireland to hold a second referendum on the treaty but that the vote should not be rushed.
"The ratification process must be completed," Jouyet said. "And during this period, the Irish will have time to think and see whether, with a few mediations or a request from their part, they can revote."
Attention in Ireland is now focused on whether it will have to hold another referendum to put the treaty back on track -- as Ireland did when voters rejected a previous EU treaty in 2001 and the result was reversed a year later.
Regarding a second referendum, Cowen told state broadcaster RTE Friday: "I'm not ruling anything in or out or up or down."
But others within his government expressed concern about the risks of another poll after such a resounding defeat for the treaty.
"I can't see a situation where we can put this matter again, to be quite honest with you, because the risk to Europe and indeed to Ireland... is to cause even more damage," Integration Minister Conor Lenihan told RTE.
Other EU heavyweights such as Germany have said they regret the result of the Irish referendum.
Slovenia, current holder of the EU presidency, said the treaty remained a key European building block, but the result had "put the brakes on" EU development.
Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, whose country headed the EU during the treaty talks, said "the Lisbon Treaty is too important for Europe and its citizens to be shelved," the Lusa news agency reported.
Britain -- traditionally lukewarm on Europe but still a big player -- vowed to continue the ratification process through parliament, despite calls from the country's Eurosceptic press to hold a referendum.
European papers had a mixed response to the result.
Germany's center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the result was a sign "that the European Union has begun to fall apart," while France's leftist Liberation said the ball was in the court of French leaders.
It suggested that Europe needed a change of strategy as it "needs to bring people in on its construction."
Cowen heads to Brussels next week for his first EU summit as Irish premier and is likely to face an uncomfortable reception.
In Ireland, most newspapers placed the blame for the defeat squarely on Cowen and his ruling center-right Fianna Fail party, which they said had run an ineffectual campaign.
He became prime minister only a month ago, taking over from Bertie Ahern who stepped down while a probe of corruption allegations against him was under way. Commentators said there had been too little time for him to put the case for a "yes" vote on the treaty to the electorate.
"The blame lies where it should be held to lie, at the top. At the top, and a very uncomfortable top it is today, stands Brian Cowen," said one columnist in the Irish Independent.
Many papers also said Cowen deserved censure for admitting he had not read the treaty cover-to-cover, particularly since many voters complained they did not understand it.
Cowen's position as prime minister seems unlikely to be threatened by the result, though, because all but one of the main political parties also supported the treaty.© Wire reports