The Warsaw Voice » Politics » Monthly - October 24, 2002
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Irish Affirmation
   
For several weeks the European Union and EU candidate countries had been holding their breath in anticipation of the results of the Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty. The referendum, in which the "yes" vote was carried, had a respectable 48-percent turnout.

The Nice Treaty allows the reform of EU institutions and the expansion of the community by 10 states, including Poland. Around 63 percent voted in favor of the Treaty, with only 37 percent against. The "yes" vote was the choice of over 906,000 Irish citizens, while 535,000 voted "no." During last year's referendum, Ireland did not accept the treaty.

Opponents of the Nice Treaty expressed fears of a decreased role for Ireland in the expansion of the Union and the loss of EU funds, while proponents favored expansion because, as they claim, Ireland would benefit from the enlargement both politically and economically.

"This is a historic day," Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced afterwards, saying this was the last barrier to the historic expansion of the EU. The prime minister's address was interrupted several times by applause. Although unhappy with the results, the treaty's opponents declare that they respect the decision of the nation.

Ireland's vote was also a relief for EU representatives, Commissioner for EU expansion Günter Verheugen mentioning that the acceptance of the treaty by Ireland has provided a fresh impulse in favor of EU expansion.

"The results show that the only nation in Europe which held a referendum on the issue, has clearly stated that Europe's rendezvous with history cannot be put off any longer," said Pat Cox, leader of the European Parliament.

"The Irish 'yes' for the Nice Treaty is a very important step on the road to EU expansion," claimed the main spokesman for the European Commission, Jonathan Faull. "The final whistle on this game hasn't yet been blown. Each side, the EU and the candidate countries, must continue to work to close negotiations, draft the treaty regarding the acceptance of new members and ratify it in all the countries," he added.

"The residents of Ireland have realized that they have a great responsibility in Europe," claimed German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. According to the chancellor, the Irish vote has opened the way for expansion of the EU.

President Aleksander Kwaśniewski stated, "Irish citizens displayed great responsibility for the future of Europe and removed one of the barriers which could complicate the expansion process."

"I'm glad that Ireland is able to think in European terms, that their years of membership in the EU have not made them only beneficiaries of what the EU has to offer, but Europeans in the full sense of the word," added Kwaśniewski. "These are people who understand that the borders of Europe cannot end at the present limits of the EU, that there's room for more members, and that Europe should be an integrated continent."

Kwaśniewski believes that the fact that Ireland, a country with a small population, can decide about the fate of the EU is proof of democracy in the organization. "This is important for all Euro-skeptics in Poland. The EU is not a structure in which the voices of the smallest countries don't count."

He adds that this should calm many Poles who think that Poland, which has close to 40 million people, "will not have a voice in the EU. We will have a voice, and it will be heard and listened to. The Irish referendum shows that the EU is sensitive to all voices."

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller also expressed his approval of the referendum results. Miller comments that if a majority of Irish residents had voted "no", EU expansion would be more difficult and probably delayed. Adding that we should adopt the example of Ireland, which has effectively taken advantage of its membership in the Union, an opportunity which will also be extended to Poland in light of the referendum. Ireland, once one of the poorest European countries, is now one of the wealthiest in the EU and maintains fast growth, states Miller.

Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaap de Hoop Scheffer felt a sense of relief by the acceptance of the Nice Treaty by Ireland, since recent days have shown that there are negative signals in his own country regarding EU expansion. "The Irish 'yes' is the last removed barrier to discussion about EU expansion," Scheffer said.

He also states that the Irish referendum does not concern the real expansion of the EU. The Nice Treaty only regulates the preparation of current members to accept new states.