Ireland rejects Nice Treaty
In a referendum on the Nice Treaty in Ireland on 7 June, 54 percent of those who bothered to vote rejected the ratification of the EU document. Thus, further complications are bound to ensue on the path to enlargement.
To start with, turnout for the referendum was at a record low. Only 32.9 percent of 2.9 million registered voters came to the polling stations. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern showed signs of bewilderment and embarrassment once the first results were available. On one hand, the changes to the Irish constitution that the Nice Treaty requires should be approved by a people's vote; on the other hand, public opinion on EU matters in member states is generally phlegmatic, which can in part be accountable for the alarming apathy of the voters even on constitutional issues.
At the same time, the leading political parties in Ireland, together with the influential Roman Catholic Church, urged a "Yes" vote, arguing that it will bring peace and security. The opposition, however, presented far more tangible cons to accepting the Treaty of Nice. The Greens, the republican Sinn Fein, the socialists and a number of religious groups insisted that an enlarged EU would mean the end of regional and structural subsidies for Ireland, which will inevitably deter economic development. In addition, had Ireland accepted the treaty, its long-standing neutrality in European affairs would have been snapped because of obligatory participation in the Rapid Reaction Force.
Consequently, EU leaders have maintained their dedication to the process of EU expansion. In a joint statement, Swedish Prime Minister GŲran Presson and Commission President Romano Prodi emphasised that "the member states and the commission will pursue the enlargement negotiations with undiminished vigour and determination, in line with our firm commitment given to the applicant countries."
The Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty follows the pattern of the Danish when they failed to ratify the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum in 1992. The next step is clear: renegotiations will follow and, despite the fervour pledged to accepting new members, candidates will have to wait a little longer.
EU industry defends enlargement
In Stockholm, on 8 June, the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) presented the Swedish Presidency with a report on enlargement which conclusively argued that expansion of the EU will be beneficial for both members and newcomers.
The report was presented by Percy Barnevik, Chair of the ERT enlargement working group and of ABB, AstraZeneca, Investor and Sandvik. In a statement for the Financial Times he expressed both hope and concern for the enlargement process: "The business community sees enlargement as paramount to securing a stronger and more competitive Europe in the global economy. Yet the process is losing momentum."
The economic benefits of enlargement seemed clear: the EU market will expand, creating more jobs and increasing the volume of trade and investment; meanwhile, new market economies will attract more foreign investment and their growth will accelerate.
At the same time, Mr Barnevik warned that the longer it takes to accept new members, the less efficient the process would be. He urged for an end to the bickering between member states and foresaw more troubles ahead such as the closure of nuclear plants, payment for nationalisations after the Second World War and disputes over Cyprus. Moreover, candidate countries were justified in their waning enthusiasm for accession, since much effort on their part was met with little rapprochement from the EU. Lastly, he pointed at the little financial dedication to this round of enlargement as compared to previous instances of taking new members in.
In conclusion, Mr Barnevik argued for clearer and more objective entry requirements. His recommendations to the EU included more technical assistance to candidates, safeguard provisions against a widening gap among accession states, and targeted funds for the promotion of economic growth.
EU lures Albania
On 6 June, the European Commission concluded that it is appropriate for Albania to start negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. The report it issued states that this would help the country "maintain the momentum of recent political and economic reform."
However, the Commission states that Albania is not ready yet to meet the obligations of the agreement. In this regard, it has designed a new CARDS (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Democratisation and Stabilisation) programme, which will work in support to the priorities of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Ivana Gogova, 8 June 2001
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