WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Nice Treaty, named after the French city where it was negotiated in February 2001, will provide the necessary legal framework dealing with matters like voting, vetoes and the appointment of commissioners to allow an initial 10 Eastern European and Mediterranean countries to join the European Union. The treaty makes provision for eventually enlarging from 15 to 27 states.
EUROPEAN UNION’S INTEREST: The treaty has to be ratified by every EU country before the end of 2002 or it will fall. Only Ireland requires a constitutional amendment to ratify it. The other 14 EU countries have already ratified it by parliamentary votes.
DEJA VU: Ireland sent shockwaves through European capitals when it rejected the treaty by 54-46 percent in June 2001.
WHY AGAIN: The Irish government says the May general election gave a mandate for a rerun of the vote. While the Nice Treaty is unchanged, the new vote will also involve a constitutional change aimed at safeguarding the country’s traditional policy of neutrality.
CONSTITUTION: Ireland’s basic law document, accepted in 1937 by a 56.5 percent referendum vote, replaced a 1922 post-colonial constitution that acknowledged the British monarch as part of the legislature.
AMENDMENT: The Irish Constitution can be changed only by a vote of Irish people ordinarily living in the country. This month’s Nice plebiscite will be the 26th amendment to be proposed in the last 65 years. Five amendments have been rejected by voters.
RECORD: There have been five amendments so far connected with the EU. The biggest vote in favor was the 83-17 percent when Ireland joined the then EEC in 1972. EU voter turnouts have been dropping from a high of 71 percent in 1972 to just 35 percent for first Nice vote last year.
ELECTORATE: There are 3 million voters on the register out of a total population of 3.9 million.
VOTE: In an effort to maximize the turnout, it will be Ireland’s first national vote to be held on a Saturday. Polls will open for 12 hours beginning at 9 a.m.
METHOD: For the first time there will be electronic voting in a referendum for seven constituencies in Dublin and Meath. The other 35 constituencies will vote with traditional paper ballots.
RESULTS: The computer voting should give the first seven constituency results within hours of the closure of the polls on Oct. 19. Paper ballot counting begins at 9 a.m. on Oct. 20 with results sent to a main count coordination center in Dublin Castle. Final result is expected by 6pm.
IN FAVOR: Supporting the treaty are the two coalition government parties, Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats, and the two main opposition parties Fine Gael and Labor. It is also backed by the main employer and trade union bodies.
AGAINST: Opposed are the Green Party, Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party, Catholic family values and anti-abortion activists and a number of lobby groups and euro-skeptics that successfully campaigned against ratification last year.
YES: Campaign much more vigorous that in 2001. Attention from central message that Nice is crucial for country’s long-term future has been diverted by rows about budget cutbacks and the Flood Tribunal corruption controversy. Anti-government protest vote feared. A referendum is not always simply about the question on the ballot paper.
NO: Campaign focused on claims about losing influence, objections to the rerunning of the vote, and economic self-interest. That agriculture may get less money from Brussels because of large number of farmers in applicant countries and the danger of cheaper, well-educated labor attracting manufacturing capital. Also claims that large-scale immigration will result of new member countries.
FAMILIAR: Opinion polls show that despite the fact that it is the second poll on Nice and there has been a major political debate, much of it has gone over the heads of voters. When campaign started, the Referendum Commission found that just 16 percent “adequately” knew what they would be voting on.
CRUX: Credibility and trust is central to the campaign. Both sides claim that Ireland’s “power, money and influence” is at stake. A crucial factor will be the turnout. If ignorance, confusion and the government’s falling popularity leads to a big stay-away, similar to last year, the treaty is expected to be rejected again.
EXPENSIVE: Law forbids government parties using public funds to promote one side in a referendum. Political parties and lobby groups are spending an estimated euro 1.25 million. A state-funded Referendum Commission is giving independent information and promoting a bigger turnout with a budget of euro 4.2 million.