The Irish decide Thursday whether or not to back the European Union's reform treaty. Ireland is the only one of the 27 EU member states holding a referendum on the issue, a vote that is expected to be close. (Eve Irvine reports from Dublin)
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Polls opened in
Ireland is the only country putting the treaty to popular vote and the “Yes” camp led by most major political parties has struggled to convince voters to ratify a proposal that would create an EU president, a stronger foreign policy chief and a more democratic voting system.
In a bid to pull the EU out of its institutional limbo, the Lisbon treaty replaces the doomed EU constitution after its rejection by French and Dutch voters in 2005. While Irish PM Brian Cowen and other leading politicians insist today that there is "no plan B" in case of the new treaty’s rejection, Nationalist party Sinn Fein has accused them of bullying voters into voting “yes.”
The last salvoes of the campaign
According to FRANCE 24’s Eve Irvine in Dublin, the “Yes” camp was making final appeals to Irish voters Wednesday. “Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Brian Cowen described Thursday as a historic day for Ireland, as Irish voters decide whether they will remain positive members of the EU or go down a new and uncertain road,” she reports.
Cowen made a last campaign push Wednesday with a whirlwind tour of his home area of the Irish Midlands and later urged people to remember the key part the EU played in Ireland's economic boom in the 1990s.
But critics of the treaty such as nationalist Sinn Fein say voters should not be bullied into accepting the text and should ask the EU to renegotiate the text to protect Ireland’s sovereignty and military neutrality.
While polls show the vote will be a close one, the “No” camp has been boosted by people’s misunderstanding of a very complex text that even Cowen, who only took over from Bertie Ahern as premier a month ago, admitted he had not read cover to cover.
The sticking points of the treaty
FRANCE 24’s European affairs specialist Caroline de Camaret reports from Dublin that Irish voters are worried they would lose their EU commissioner, “their direct link to Brussels” as the European commission would rotate under the new treaty.
Indeed, Declan Ganley, the businessman behind prominent opposition group Libertas, on Wednesday urged people to vote "no" so that Ireland could retain a stronger voice in Europe; a voice he says would be wiped out by the treaty.
De Camaret also points out that the creation of an EU minister for foreign affairs worries voters who are particularly attached to their diplomatic neutrality. “In 2001, the Irish had obtained concessions from the EU on this point when they rejected the Nice treaty,” she reports.
According to Irvine, participation is “particularly important” for the “Yes” camp. When Ireland almost scuttled the Nice treaty in a referendum, only 35% of the population had gone to the polls.
Date created : 2008-06-12