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.