Irish support for Nice Treaty growing

A new opinion poll, conducted by the US bankers Citigroup, found that support for the Nice Treaty in Ireland has grown to 44 per cent from 29 per cent last month.

The Citigroup poll found that 22 per cent of respondents would oppose the treaty while 27 per cent were undecided.

However, exactly the same level of support, 44 per cent, was registered in the days before the first referendum, and then 54 per cent of the Irish voters rejected it.

According to the Irish Times, the EU intends to ask the Irish Parliament to issue a declaration backing enlargement if Irish voters reject the Nice Treaty for the 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,who is currently presiding over the European Council, has warned that an Irish "No" would plunge the EU into a crisis.

TheCommission President, Romano Prodi,said that the Nice Treaty was a political requirement for enlargement to proceed.

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, the outside world cannot make the judgment whether the rejection means enlargement or something else," he stated.

Officially, noalternative planexists to go ahead with EU enlargement if the Irish voters reject the Nice Treaty again. Nevertheless, EU officials admit there are ways of circumventing a potential rejection, for example 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, and it could delay enlargement for months or even years.

 

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.

 

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