Opponents of further integration of the 27-nation European Union suffered a setback as Ireland, on Saturday, voted overwhelmingly “yes” in a crucial referendum on the contentious Lisbon Treaty designed to streamline the EU and put it on a more federalist footing.
This was the second referendum in 16 months. In the previous round, in June last year, voters had rejected the Treaty on the back of an aggressive “no” campaign bankrolled by a Euro-sceptic businessman exploiting fears that it would compromise Ireland’s national sovereignty.
Saturday’s U-turn, which saw 67 per cent vote in favour of the Treaty, followed what the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen described as EU’s “comprehensive response to our concerns”.
Ireland was able to extract legally-binding guarantees from Brussels that the Treaty would not affect its strong anti-abortion laws or polices in areas such as taxation and military neutrality.
A visibly relieved Mr. Cowen, who had put his job on the line by agreeing to a second referendum, said it was a “good day for Ireland and a good day for Europe”.
“The Irish people have spoken with a clear and resounding voice,” he said adding that Ireland and Europe were “better together”.
The “yes” vote was welcomed across Europe with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, calling it “an important victory for Ireland and for all of Europe”.
The Treaty, which creates the post of a EU President and Foreign Minister, was drawn up after a draft EU constitution was rejected by French and Dutch voters. It will come into force only when all the 27 member nations have ratified it. Most, including Britain, have already done so. Only Poland and the Czech Republic are holding out.