THE final results of a referendum held in Ireland on October 19 reversed a vote in 2001 rejecting entry into the European Union. This time almost 63 per cent of voters favoured the Treaty of Nice, which sets the rules for expanding the 15-nation E.U. by 2004 to embrace 10 new members, mostly Eastern and Central European countries. Ireland was the only E.U member whose constitution required a referendum on the issue.
In June 2001, 54 per cent of Irish voters rejected the expansion of the E.U. (the turnout was only a third of the eligible voters). The treaty required unanimous support among all 15 member-states and the other 14 had already approved it by parliamentary vote. This time, after days of passionate campaigning, about 48 per cent of registered voters turned out and, in some districts, support for E.U. membership was as high as 73 per cent. The outcome ended the anxious moments of many people in the 10 countries waiting to see if they would be allowed into the Union: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said the vote "ensures Ireland remains in the heart of Europe, where we belong". The outcome was depicted by Irish commentators as a triumph for Ahern after the humiliating defeat last year. But the turnout was lower on a national level than had seemed likely when the first results emerged from the Dublin area late on October 19. About 1.44 million people of an electorate of 2.9 million voted.
Some European officials and analysts warned that the enlargement of the E.U. still faced significant problems. "It's now pretty likely that enlargement will happen in 2004, but there are obstacles," said Charles Grant,who heads the Centre for European Reform, a pro-European research organisation, in London. Grant cited political problems in the Netherlands, where the government collapsed last fortnight, and financial negotiations that were still to be completed before an E.U. summit meeting in Copenhagen in mid-December.New York Times Service