By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Following the referendum defeat for the Nice Treaty on EU enlargement in June, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has given the go-ahead for a new National Forum to debate the future of Europe that will begin sittings on Thursday, Oct. 18.
The purpose of the forum is to facilitate discussion of issues relevant to Ireland’s membership of an enlarging Europe, but Fine Gael have not indicated it will attend what it has dismissed as a “talking shop.”
The Irish government is expected to hold another Nice ballot next year. But there is concern that there could be repeat of the shock 54 percent rejection of the treaty in a constitutional referendum on June 7.
The treaty might then have to be abandoned by the EU.
All 15 EU countries have to ratify the treaty by the end of next year, but Ireland is the only country where a referendum is required. The other 14 are expected to ratify it with parliamentary votes.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Named after the south of France city where it was negotiated last year, the treaty paves the way for structural and representational changes to allow for the enlargement of the EU to include former communist bloc countries of central and eastern Europe.
The forum will have seats for 33 members drawn from the Dail and Seanad — chosen on the basis of the share of the first-preference votes in the 1997 general election.
In its first phase, to conclude in about three months, it would focus on the implications and preparation for EU enlargement and the future organization and structure of the community.
A cross-section of the main employer, trade union, farming, religious and community groups, as well as opponents of the treaty and Northern Ireland political parties, would have observer status.