On a June day in 2001, half a million determined, angry and in many cases confused Irish voters delivered a resounding “No” to the mighty European Union, what it was and what it hoped to be upon expansion. In round numbers, that was 500,000 Irish versus about 500 million Europeans.
The Spartans would have found such odds familiar. Despite their stubborn defense, however, the 300 could not indefinitely hold back the Persian Empire, intent as it was on expanding the number of its, well, member states.
So, on Saturday, Oct. 19, will the “Yes” vote, backed as it is by the Irish government and much of Ireland’s economic and political establishment, break through against the same hodgepodge of smaller parties and anti-Nice groups that managed to pull a stunning “No” out of the hat 16 months ago? Even at this late stage it’s impossible to say. With just over a week to go before addled voters decide the matter for a second time, it would appear to be all yet to play for in “Nice Two.”
Back in June 2001, the opinion polls seemed to suggest a “Yes” vote right up until voting day. But a combination of a low voter turnout, just 35 percent, and the bulk of the “undecided” vote going to the “No” side, produced a shock result, one that stopped the process of expanding the 15-nation European Union in its tracks.
Ireland is on the edge of Europe geographically and differs from its partners in the manner in which it has dealt with the Treaty Of Nice, a document designed to increase European Union membership from 15 to 27 nations. Ireland, in short, is the only country to have opened the issue to voters. All the other member states ratified Nice in their parliaments.
Before last year’s “No” it had seemed that a referendum was a safe bet in a country that, virtually everyone agrees, has done well out of the EU as it is currently constituted. It would, even now, be hard to find anyone in Ireland who is fundamentally opposed to the likes of Hungary, Latvia and Malta joining the union.
But those who voted “No” in 2001, and who are poised to do so a second time, see far more in the Nice Treaty than the mere expansion of one of the world’s more exclusive clubs to a group of deserving new members.
“Nice is being sold as a treaty of enlargement, but enlargement can go ahead anyway and even prominent ‘Yes’ campaigners are saying that,” Steve Rawson, spokesman for the “No”-backing Irish Green Party, said last week. “This is much more to do with a deepening of EU structures.
“What is happening is that Nice is a complete change of direction for the EU, one in which the idea of a community of equals will be seriously eroded. We would end up with a situation favoring the larger countries over the smaller ones.”
The Irish Greens — or at least a majority of them — together with other parties such as Sinn F