Czechs disappointed but defiant following shock Irish vote

11-06-2001

EUEU Ireland´s stunning rejection of the EU's Nice Treaty threatens to cast a shadow over this week´s summit of EU member states and candidate countries in the Swedish town of Gothenburg. EU leaders and diplomats, have, however, pledged that enlargement talks will continue regardless, and urged Dublin to hold a second referendum as soon as possible.

Commentator Jan Urban says the Irish "No"- is an annoyance, but believes all is not lost.

"We feel we still have two years to work on this issue, and I think that the Irish referendum result came at the right time, as a stern warning that we all really need to do more, talk more to the electorate and explain what Europe we want and what future lies ahead for all of us."

The Czech Foreign Ministry has said the Irish referendum is a complication in the enlargement process, but highlighted the low turnout. Prague pointed to opinion polls showing that almost 60 per cent of the Irish people are in favour of enlargement. President Vaclav Havel used stronger language; he said enlargement must continue - adding that failure would be 'suicidal' for Europe.

But shadow Foreign Minister Jan Zahradil said he was convinced that the reason for such a low turnout was that the European integration process has now moved away from the people to such an extent that they no longer understand it. Political commentator Jan Urban agrees, saying there needs to be greater debate on EU enlargement, both in the 15 EU members and the 12 candidate countries.

"There will be a large debate when EU foreign ministers meet this week in Gothenburg, and candidate countries have to take detailed notice of what is agreed in Gothenburg and take part in these discussions. But I think we cannot invent better solution for this 'works accident' than to talk more and to explain in much greater detail to the people in our countries what's going on and what we want."

Political commentator Jan Urban. Well, Radio Prague's Ita Dungan - born and bred in Dublin - joins me on the line now - Ita why in your mind did the Irish people vote No?

"Well Rob, first and foremost I would say that the Irish rejection by all accounts was not a vote against EU enlargement. There was no serious xenophobic campaigning by either camp, and both sides actually expressed their support in principle for enlargement. And one of the big things really has been the complacency of the Irish government with regard to campaigning. All four major parties in the Irish Republic, big business, the media, trade unions, and in fact the Church - which still has a lot of influence among older voters - all came out in favour of a 'Yes' vote, but they didn't really feel it necessary to campaign for such a vote. The 'No' lobby was much more vocal in its campaigning."

Do you think the Irish perhaps voted with their pockets rather than their feet? Ireland has received around 30 billion U.S. dollars from EU funds since joining the Union. Do you think people are just worried that they'll lose out when the EU will have 12 new members?

"Well definitely that is a factor, but I wouldn't think that it was the main factor. I think that they saw the new voting powers within the Union - with enlargement - would actually reduce the power of smaller countries, and they can see perhaps a powerful inner group of people being formed that would weaken our influence - Ireland's influence - within the EU"

The fact is that Irish Parliament must ratify the Nice Treaty for enlargement to go ahead. The Irish people must say 'yes' in a referendum before the parliament can do that. And all this has to be done by the end of 2002. Can the Irish people be persuaded (a) to bother to go out in the first place, and (b) to vote 'yes'?

"Well, that is the big question at the moment. And I would say they will not go to the European Union and ask to change the treaty, because the whole treaty would fall apart, because it was so complex, and if one thread is pulled out, the whole treaty would unravel. So perhaps what they could do is ask that a declaration would be added to the Nice Treaty that would specify directly that a 'yes' vote from the people of Ireland would not in any way jeopardise their neutrality. This addition of a neutrality declaration may bring out the other voters to encourage them to vote 'yes', but it's not 100 percent sure. The Irish government at the moment is talking about holding a 'Nice Referendum Mark II' after the next Irish general election which would be in August of next year, but we cannot be 100 percent sure if the people will vote 'yes'. And basically the government would have to campaign and explain to the people what the Nice Treaty involves, because most of the people on the streets don't understand what is involved in such a tedious and complicated issue."

11-06-2001