The institutional inertia of the EU is strong, but there is no doubt that there are better solutions to the Irish NO vote to the Lisbon treaty than hoping it will go away or trying to ignore it.
If there had been a referendum in every member state and only Ireland had rejected the treaty, then there might be some ground to suggest that some way round the situation might be sought. In fact, of course Ireland was the only state to submit the treaty to a vote. It is pretty clear that several other states, if a vote had been called, might well have rejected the treaty too.
Some reforms are needed: democratic oversight in the EU needs to be increased, and more powers returned to the national Parliaments. The internal voting system should be made fairer and the confusion over the legal personality of the Union and the way it handles its external relations needs to be improved.
However it does not automatically need the Lisbon treaty to undertake these reforms. For the time being the systems are working to a degree, and the organisation is not facing a serious structural crisis. However the prolonged navel-gazing is distracting attention form areas where the EU clearly has an important role. The challenges of cross border environmental degradation are being ducked and the security challenge of an aggressive Russia is not being addressed.
Some of the goals of the Laeken Process , including the reforms I mention above, can be enacted through the accession treaty with Croatia which will need to be put in process this autumn in order to allow for entry in 2010. Beyond that, any fundamental changes to the EU should be put aside for the time being.
As a Liberal commentary this blog believes that setting the limits to state power is a fundamental basis of freedom. The EU has been trying to change tack from "ever closer union" towards more limited policy goals for some time. However the compromises embedded in the Constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty are simply too many and too complicated. The idea of comprehensive reform must be shelved- we can not bring either the majority of the states or the majority of the population to agreement at this point- and it is dangerous to try.
The EU can only reconnect with the citizen if it can demonstrate that it serves a valuable purpose. Instead of the high-falutin' words of Giscard d'Estaing's Federalism, we should return to the practical usefulness of Functionalism. To refuse to accept the implications of the Irish vote can only alienate more countries from the organisation.
Much has been achieved in Europe by the European Union- but in the final analysis forcing through significant change against the democratic will of the citizen would simply undermine the whole system. The only people likely to laugh at that are the genuinely scary anti-democrats in the Kremlin and the Forbidden City.