Ireland's Second, and Last, Chance

Once again, Irish voters are poised to vote Yes or No to the Treaty of Nice. Forgotten what that treaty is all about? Well, it is one of those all-too-frequent late-night compromises reached by EU heads of state and government that seek to slither around and through some practical problems while postponing others.

The compromise reached at Nice four years ago is important because it contains, among other provisions, all the technicalities of voting balances and power sharing among EU institutions that must be firmly in place before the Union can admit new members. Enlargement is the most important item on the European agenda, and the Treaty of Nice is its cornerstone. Without it, the accession candidates can not be invited this December to join the Union, as promised in Copenhagen ten years ago.

The Irish rejected the Nice Treaty in a referendum last year. The country's entire establishment--its government, major political parties (including the opposition), trade unions and employers--all supported a Yes vote. But the Yes backers could never articulate clearly why people should vote in favor of the Treaty. Their constituents largely ended up ignoring the issue altogether. The No vote won 54%, but only 35% of eligible voters bothered to turn up at the polls.

It is still difficult to fathom why the No vote attracted so much support, even given widespread apathy. The opposition to the Nice Treaty was and continues to be a bizarre Irish Stew of pacifism, religion, and socialism, along with some fascinating local eccentricities. And yet, despite winning the addition of a special protocol to the Nice Treaty that guarantees Ireland's cherished neutrality, Yes supporters face an uphill battle.