There was a collective sigh of relief in Europe's capitals yesterday as an Irish opinion poll showed a surge of support for the Nice Treaty on enlargement in next week's crucial referendum. Ireland is the only EU nation yet to ratify it.
And a second rejection of the Treaty by nervous Irish voters would bring the enlargement process grinding to a halt and plunge the EU into a constitutional crisis. It would also bring the wrath of Europe's applicant countries down on Ireland's head as numerous emissaries have made clear. Cyprus, Malta and eight East European nations want to join. The poll found Irish support for the Treaty soaring to 44 per cent, up from from 29 per cent in a poll last month. The level of opposition edged to 22 per cent from 19, and the percentage undecided dived from 44 to 27.
Another "no" in the country's 19 October referendum would be disaster scenario, the European Commission, President Romano Prodi, said. "We hope the Irish people realise just how important the referendum is." In Dublin, the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said he was lobbying hard for a "yes" vote. That would ensure "Ireland plays a constructive part in the [EU] enlargement process, a process that will reunite a continent divided for more than half a century", Mr Ahern said. Michael Saunders, managing director of economic and market analysis for Citigroup, which staged the telephone survey of 934 people, said: "I think it's probably a victory."
Ireland sent shockwaves through Europe when its voters rejected the Treaty in June 2001 by 54 per cent to 46 in a referendum with a 34 per cent turnout. A poll just before Ireland's first Treaty vote last year had similar findings, but Treaty supporters, including all main political parties, say a bigger turnout should carry the day.
Opponents – Sinn Fein, the Greens, and some trade unions – say the government is in league with big business, labour and civic groups, effectively buying the referendum by spending more than €1m while anti-treaty groups operate on a shoestring.
"It's entirely predictable," John Gormley, a leader of the anti-treaty Green Party and member of parliament, said. "All you have to do is look at the media coverage"
For the last referendum, the "no" side peppered the countryside with a poster and leaflet campaign while the "yes" side floundered. This time, the pro-Treaty side kept it simple: the EU is good for a country economically and politically.
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