A "No" vote in Ireland to the European Union (EU)'s Lisbon Treaty will not stop further enlargement of the 27-nation bloc, EU officials said on Monday.
"Enlargement will not stop, the process of European unification and integration will not stop," said Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who met his EU colleagues here in the aftermath of the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, a key legal instrument which will streamline the EU decision making as the bloc is expanding.
They were trying to find response to the resounding veto by Irish voters with 53.4 percent against and 46.6 in favor, which plunged the EU integration process into impasse and raised doubts about its further expansion.
Echoing Stubb, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn downplayed the consequences, saying there is "no direct link" between the Irish vote and enlargement.
"Despite current difficulties related to the Lisbon treaty, the European Union sticks to its word concerning the EU perspective of southeastern Europe, that is the Western Balkans and Turkey," Rehn said.
In an unplanned testimony of the EU's determination on enlargement process, Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU on Monday, taking its first step to join the 27-nation bloc.
Bosnia was the last of the six West Balkan countries to sign the SAA with the EU, after similar steps by Croatia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro and Serbia.
The SAA is designed to boost trade and economic ties between the 27-nation bloc and West Balkan countries and put them on path towards full EU membership.
Also on Tuesday, the EU was scheduled to hold pre-accession talks with Croatia and Turkey, two of the three candidate countries which are seeking EU membership.
The EU was expected to open talks on new policy areas with the two countries. In order to be accepted into the EU, candidate countries have to bring their respective policies, such as the free movement of goods, financial services, energy and foreign policy, into line with EU ones.
There are altogether 35 policy areas or the so-called "chapters". Croatia still has 18 chapters for talks, while Turkey has six.
Tuesday's decisions would be "clear evidence of the enlargement process being on track," Rehn said.
Meanwhile, leaders from four central European countries insisted Monday that Irish voters' rejection of the Lisbon Treaty should have no impact on the EU's future enlargement.
"In no case should recent events in Ireland be a reason that we should work less on enlargement of the EU with partners such as Croatia and other countries," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, meeting in Prague with his Czech, Hungarian and Slovakian counterparts.