The fate of the European Union’s reform treaty hangs in the balance as Irish voters go to the polls. Ireland is the only country in the 27-member bloc holding a referendum on the pact designed to streamline how the EU is run.
Led by Prime Minister Brian Cowen, most major parties, businesses and farming groups have been campaigning for a “Yes” vote. But many of those in favour of change freely admit the complex treaty text has made it a hard sell to voters.
The treaty will establish a long-term president of the European Council of EU leaders, a stronger foreign policy chief and create a more democratic voting system with national and European parliaments have more say. The latest opinion polls suggest the outcome is too close to call.
Turnout will be key after Ireland almost scuppered EU plans for eastwards expansion by rejecting the Nice treaty in 2001 when only 35 percent of the electorate voted. It was eventually passed in a second vote but Ireland’s politicians insist a rerun is not an option this time round.
They say the EU has no fallback position given the treaty is already a replacement for the defunct constitution. No exit polls are planned so anxious EU policy chiefs must wait until Friday for the count to begin with result expected in the afternoon.