LISBON TREATY

Ireland votes on crucial EU treaty

Irish voters are voting in a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty following last year’s Irish rejection of the EU reform treaty in a high-stakes vote that could be a defining moment for the future of the European Union.

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All eyes in the European Union are on Ireland on Friday where three million voters have started voting in a referendum that could determine the future of the 500-million people bloc.

 

Irish voters are going to the polls for the second time to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, a successor to the doomed European Constitution that would significantly reform how the EU is governed. Besides streamlining decision-making, it would introduce the posts of full-time president of the European Council and foreign policy chief, giving the 27-nation bloc greater global clout.

 

The latest opinion polls suggest Irish voters will reverse their decision from June 2008, when 53.4 percent rejected the treaty. A poll for Ireland's Sunday Business Post showed 55 percent in favour, 27 against, and 18 percent undecided.

 

“But this poll is already a week old and in the last 48 hours the “no” camp has been going up,” said Hervé Amoric, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Dublin.

 

A crucial yes or no

 

Ireland’s sharp economic downturn has provided those in favour of the treaty with a powerful argument, as business leaders and government officials argue that support from the EU would help pull the country out of recession.

 

The Irish gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to shrink a record eight percent while the unemployment rate could exceed 15 percent, three times its June 2008 level.

 

“At times of major economic challenge, what we need is stability and certainty in the direction which Europe is taking,” said Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen during a news conference on Wednesday.

 

“The whole campaign of the Irish government was based on the economy. 'Say yes to save jobs' was the slogan,” reported FRANCE 24’s Hervé Amoric.

 

But opponents to the treaty have tried to turn the referendum into a lightening rod for widespread discontentment over the government’s mishandling of the economy.

 

The Irish government agreed to hold a second referendum after the EU assured Ireland's sovereignty on issues such as military neutrality, anti-abortion laws, and tax policies would be guaranteed. The EU also confirmed Ireland would keep its commissioner.

 

“In fact, very few people mentioned the guarantees as an important thing that may persuade them to vote yes this time. The economic factor will be the determining factor in this referendum (…) For most people here, Europe has become again a symbol of economic solidarity,” said Amoric.

 

The counting will start on Saturday, with the full results possible as early as Saturday afternoon. Apart from Ireland, the only other countries yet to ratify the Lisbon treaty are the Czech Republic and Poland.

 

Polish president Lech Kaczynski has said he would sign on it if Ireland votes “Yes” but Czech president Vaclav Klaus is still likely to stall his approval after 17 Czech senators filed a constitutional complaint against the treaty.

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