But even those who voted in favor of the Nice Treaty, doubtless with varying degrees of enthusiasm, should continue to take heed of some of the red flags raised by the “No” campaign in the run-up to the referendum.
The result of the referendum, the second on the treaty aimed at expanding the European Union from its present 15 members to 25, put an end to a period of considerable uncertainty and soul searching in Ireland’s body politic.
Overall, the decision of the majority of those who voted has to be welcomed.
Ireland has done too well in Europe to have turned around and blocked the entry of those nations that might have been members of the EU years ago but for the shackles imposed on them by the former Soviet Union.
In blunt terms, the Irish really had no right to tell the Poles or Czechs that they had no place at the Euro table. And that, clearly, would have been the dominant perception around the world had Irish voters turned back Nice as they had in June of 2001.
What the Irish did have a right to do, and did rather well as they argued Nice back and forth, was point out the potential problems that could emerge in a Europe that will, with expanded membership, more than ever look like a pond inhabited by sharks and minnows.
Some European countries have a habit of standing on their hind legs and lecturing the United States, with something less than subtlety, on the intricacies of diplomacy and statecraft. The French, of course, have been doing just that in recent days with regard to the brewing crisis over Iraq. But in truth, the French are relative neophytes compared to the U.S. when it comes to balancing power between states and regions.
What the Irish voters did was address the Nice issue in a rather American way. They were, in short, skeptical to a healthy degree of motives and doings inside the Brussels version of the Washington Beltway. Such questioning of the establishment is no bad thing.
In the end, however, most, if not all, of the doubts and questions were answered adequately by Ireland’s political leaders, who, this time around, managed to put in sufficient work to sell Nice, not just to the accepting, but, critically, to a sufficient number of the doubters. It will be up to those same politicians to now ensure that the legitimate fears of those who voted “No” last Saturday were either groundless or can be assuaged.
The expansion of Europe should now be an opportunity for Ireland to develop closer ties with new member nations of similar size, population and outlook.
Bigger is not always better, but in the context of a growing union of Europe it can be made just so.