By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The campaign for a new Nice treaty referendum, expected in late October or early November, was effectively launched by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern after the EU’s 14 other premiers backed the government’s declaration on Irish neutrality.
Following a weekend EU leaders’ summit in Seville, Spain, Ahern rounded on Nice opponents whose campaign last year led to a shock 54-46 percent rejection of the treaty in a major setback to plans to admit new Eastern Europe and Mediterranean countries members.
However, the taoiseach has come under attack for descriptions of anti-Nice campaigners as “whingers” and “scaremongers.”
The declarations from both the government and the EU spell out that Ireland is not bound by any mutual defense commitments and that it is not party to any plans to develop a European army.
The government hopes it will assist the passage of the new Nice ballot. But opponents have already dismissed the declarations, saying they have no legal standing.
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This week, the cabinet will consider taking the matter a step further by including a guarantee of military neutrality in the Constitution as part of plans to rerun the plebiscite.
Ahern refused to be drawn on the matter, merely saying that “all kinds of options” are being examined in preparing wording in the legislation to allow for the second vote.
“We are not ignoring any of the concerns of people, we are trying to address them as best we can so that when we go back to the people we have a clear position,” he told RTE.
A memorandum to cabinet is also reported to put forward the options of inserting the EU declaration or the so-called “triple lock” guarantee in the constitution.
Under the triple-lock, the Defence Forces could not be committed to a EU military force, unless the government and the Dail agree and, and then only if there is a prior UN mandate.
Additions to the wording of the new Nice vote would answer critics who said it is constitutionally illegal simply to run the same words again after they had already been rejected.
Copperfastening neutrality in the Constitution would answer those who say the declarations by themselves are legally worthless.
The new minister of state for EU Affairs, Dick Roche, said the EU declaration has the backing of the heads of government of 350 million people in the 15 countries.
It confirmed in the “clearest and most unambiguous language” that the treaty posed no threat to traditional neutrality policy.
“If we do not get a Yes vote, Ireland’s relationship with Europe will be dreadfully badly damaged. We will be precipitating a European constitutional crisis. That’s not in our best interest,” he said.
The EU has said a second Irish No would delay the accession of new candidate countries lining up to join the Community — the most ambitious project since the adoption of the euro currency — and cause a crisis of confidence.
Opinion polls have suggested there is a rising anti-treaty sentiment in Ireland.
The treaty will expire if it is not signed by all EU members by the end of the year, vastly complicating the admission of new countries. Thirteen of the EU countries have already ratified it. Ireland is the only one where a referendum is needed.
Named after the French Mediterranean city where it was agreed by EU leaders in December 2000, the treaty comprises key institutional and power-sharing reforms.
Twelve countries are negotiating with Brussels to join the EU, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and Cyprus. Eventually up to 25 countries, with a population of 480 million, could become members.