The successful results of the so-called Nice Treaty referendum, underway in Ireland, mean a hearty welcome to the European Union for ten candidate countries with a subsequent end of admission talks already this year and the admission as it is in 2004. But if the capricious Irishmen say no, 75 million people will have to give up their dreams of becoming part of the extensive EU family for many years to come and a big row is certain to erupt. Anyway, this is how the ordinary European thinks about this referendum.
However, the matter is somewhat more complicated and one can only hope that consequences won't be that grave for Brussels.
The Treaty of Nice, which was concluded at the EU summit in the December of 2000, has been already ratified by 14 of 15 European Union members. Its coming in force requires a consensus of 15 members and Ireland is the only country whose Constitution makes the adoption of the treaty dependent on a referendum.
To EU officials' great embarrassment, the one already staged last June rejected the treaty by a 54 percent majority. Why? Even Irish analysts are in a difficulty to answer this question. Public opinion zigzags on the Emerald Island are sometimes incomprehensible. Perhaps, if more people had come then to the polling stations - and two of every three voters had stayed at home - the results could have been the opposite. Most people are believed to have put too much confidence in the results of triumphant polls and just ignored the talks, thinking things would go the right way even without their help.
As a result, few people proved to vote in accordance with the polls while the opponents of the government which had taken little effort to lobby in favour of the treaty, went out of their way to bring to the polling stations as many people as possible. Their chief argument boiled down to the Nice Treaty's providing for joint EU action in defence, which can discredit Ireland's historical neutrality.
The Irish authorities seem to be more active this time, persuading the population to appreciate all the benefits that the country has gained from the EU membership and make up for this by helping ten candidates from East and South Europe to gain access to the same coveted possibilities.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has warned the compatriots against missing the referendum once more because negative results this time will just mean saying to millions of people who have spent decades awaiting EU membership: "Go to hell!" For its part, Brussels has made a special statement convincing the Irish that the Treaty of Nice constituted no threat to their neutrality. Nevertheless, with the Irish government having seen its rating decrease notably in the past year, another setback at the current referendum is not excluded.
The popular discontent with the government's domestic policy may end in its closing doors on the European Union. What's then? Brussels officials say they have no alternative.
Will this imply that "no" at the Irish referendum will put heavy breaks on or delay EU enlargement for a long period? And, anyway, can this process do without the Treaty of Nice?
This treaty is often called a treaty on EU enlargement but this is not quite so. The enlargement possibility is envisaged by other EU fundamental documents; as for who and when can be admitted to the EU, it is to be decided by a EU December summit in Copenhagen. As to the Treaty of Nice, it was designed to simplify the process of decision-making after the European Union is joined by 10 new members. But the treaty seems to have hardly succeeded in this. It has done nothing but spread the principle of qualified majority to a number of additional areas of the EU policy.
But the rules defining this majority are rather complicated. According to European Commission chairman Romano Prodi who has never made a secret of his discontent with the Treaty's certain details, one has to be a Ph.D. in mathematics to grasp the idea.
If the Saturday referendum ends in another no-confidence vote, this will be a painful blow to both Brussels and Dublin seeking to thank Brussels for its care for Irish farmers. Still, there is one loophole. A leakage from the European Commission indicates that the latter can apply to the parliament of Ireland for adopting a special declaration in favour of EU enlargement. Besides, Brussels can make use of the Amsterdam treaty of 1997, providing for the admission of five new member-states without any change in the EU existing norms.
Official Brussels is legally entitled to certain other measures as well. So, it will be no easy task to let 75 million people looking forward to EU memberships go to hell.
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