EU and candidate countries anxiously await Irish vote

The Nice Treaty, which paves the way for EU enlargement, could get a go ahead in the second Irish referendum on 19 October. The latest opinion poll, published in the Irish Times on 17 October, suggests that 42 per cent would vote in favour and 29 per cent against.

A second No in Ireland could derail the plans to invite 10 new members to join the EU in 2004. Officially, there is no alternative plan to let 10 candidate countries join the Union if Irish voters reject the Nice Treaty for a second time. The current Amsterdam Treaty allows EU enlargement to maximum five countries.

A rejection of the Nice Treaty by Ireland could delay enlargement by months or even years. The EU could circumvent a potential rejection of the Nice Treaty by including the change of voting rights and the EU’s institutional set-up in the Accession Treaty with the candidate countries. However, such a move could be challenged in the European Court of Justice.

Other alternatives include replacing the Nice Treaty with a new constitutional treaty, currently drafted by the European Convention on the future EU, chaired by former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. The draft constitution will be tabled in June 2003 and should be adopted by EU leaders in 2004. That would delay enalargement until 2006 because the ratification period is two years.

EU Member States could also decide to speed up the Convention’s work so that a new constitutional treaty could be adopted in 2003 and ratified by 2005. That would delay enlargement by only one year.

 

EU Foreign Ministersagreed at their informal meeting in Elsinore (Denmark) on 31 August to ask the Irish Parliament to issue a declaration backing enlargement if Irish voters should reject the Nice Treaty for a second time. That would provide the EU with an interpretation that the Irish vote "is not a rejection of enlargement", and would neutralise complaints that by admitting up to 10 new members, the EU would be ignoring the democratically expressed will of the Irish people, according to the newspaper.

However, theIrish Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen,rejected this idea. "Any speculation that a parliamentary declaration in some way can overturn the popular will of the people of this republic is to show, I'm afraid, a lack of knowledge of the constitutional position," he said.

TheDanish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen,whose country is holding the six-month rotating EU presidency, has warned that an Irish "No" would plunge the EU into a severe crisis. "A No vote in Ireland will create an unpredictable and unprecedented crisis," said Mr Rasmussen.

TheCommission President, Romano Prodi,said that the Nice Treaty was a political requirement for enlargement to proceed. "Ratification of the Nice Treaty will allow us to bring in ten new member countries in the beginning of 2004. Enlargement is an opportunity we must not miss", he said.

TheEnlargement Commissioner, Günther Verheugen,said that he did not know how enlargement could proceed without Ireland's support for the Nice Treaty. "If a treaty is rejected twice in a country and that country knows exactly that this treaty is a precondition for the conclusion of enlargement negotiations, th e outside world cannot make the judgment whether the rejection means enlargement or something else," he stated. Mr Verheugen warned that conclusion of the negotiations is not possible without the Nice Treaty.

 

Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty in a June 2001 referendum with 54 per cent of the vote. Ireland is the only one of the current EU Member States that must ratify the treaty by referendum. If it is not ratified before the end of 2002, the treaty will lapse.

The Treaty includes institutional and decision-making reforms that represent a legal basis for EU enlargement. The main dispositions include:

  • reweighting of the votes in the Council of Ministers;
  • increasing the ceiling on the European Parliament from 626 to 732 in 2004;
  • capping the size of the European Commission at 27;
  • extending majority voting on some issues;
  • allowing groups of eight or more countries to forge ahead with closer co-operation in certain areas;
  • laying groundwork for a rapid reaction force.

 

The second Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty will be held on 19 October so that EU leaders can take decisions concerning the first wave of enlargement at the Brussels summit on 24-25 October.

Official invitations to the selected candidate countries will be issued at the Copenhagen Summit on 12-13 December 2002. The first accessions are planned for 2004.

 

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