By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The rerun of the Nice Treaty referendum on EU enlargement later this year will also involve a ban on the country joining any future EU common defense alliance without a further constitutional plebiscite.
Concern about a threat to the Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality arising from the provisions of the treaty is regarded as one of the main reasons why voters rejected it by 54-46 percent in June 2001.
“The government is putting it beyond doubt that any future involvement by Ireland in a common defense would be for the people to decide in a referendum,” an Irish government statement said.
The treaty must be ratified in all 15 EU member-states by the end of this year or else it falls. Ireland is the only country where a constitutional referendum is necessary.
The second Nice vote, expected in October, provides for an amendment to the country’s 1937 Constitution that will ratify the treaty.
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Unlike a year ago, however, it will also include the addition of a new section in the Constitution preventing Ireland from adopting any decision taken by the European Council on the establishment of a common defense policy, if it were to include Ireland.
In order for Ireland to join a common defense, the people would first have to vote to delete or amend the new constitutional prohibition.
“The insertion of this provision in the Constitution, which involves a significant change from the last Nice referendum, guarantees that Ireland could not participate in such a common defense policy without further amendment to the Constitution,” the government said. “That amendment could only be made if the Irish people vote in favor of it at a future referendum.”
The extra wording in the new Nice vote is supported by Fine Gael and Labor. All the main parties had also backed a Yes vote a year ago. However, it has not persuaded the No parties, like the Greens, Sinn Fein and the Socialists, to come on board.
At the recent EU leaders’ summit in Seville, Spain, all EU premiers endorsed a declaration reaffirming Ireland’s neutrality and assuring that the treaty poses no threat.
Opponents of the treaty had dismissed the declaration saying it had no legal standing.
The government says the declaration will now, in effect, have the backing of constitutional law.
“The government is confident that the people will in the autumn decide that Ireland must remain at the heart of the EU because first and foremost it is in out interests and because it will allow enlargement to proceed through ratification of Nice,” the statement said.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the EU faces an “unprecedented and unpredictable crisis” if Ireland fails to ratify the treaty.
“That is not in Ireland’s interest and not in the EU interest,” he said, describing the enlargement of the community was a “moral and political imperative.”
Ahern and his ministers have been stressing that the new referendum will be the most important vote since the country decided to become part of Europe 30 years ago and would be as important as a general election.
The Dail is to reconvene early after its summer break in September to start the Nice campaign.
Named after the French Mediterranean city where it was agreed by EU leaders in December 2000, the Nice Treaty comprises key institutional and power-sharing reforms to enable the Union to add up to 12 new member states from as early as 2004.
Twelve countries are negotiating with Brussels to join the EU as early as mid-2004, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and Cyprus.