DUBLIN – Ireland’s recession-hit voters have overwhelmingly approved the European Union’s ambitious and long-delayed reform plans, electoral chiefs announced Saturday in a referendum result greeted with wild cheers in Dublin – and nervous sighs of relief in Brussels.
Ireland had been the primary obstacle to ratifying the EU Lisbon Treaty, a mammoth agreement designed to modernize and strengthen the 27-nation bloc’s institutions and decision-making powers in line with its near-doubling in size since 2004. The treaty will make it easier to make decisions by majority rather than unanimous votes, and give a bigger say to national parliaments and the European Parliament in shaping EU policies.
The Irish – the only EU citizens voting directly for a complex, impenetrably legal document that has been eight years in the making – stunned Brussels last year with a surprise rejection fueled by fears that an emboldened EU would force neutral Ireland to raise its business taxes, join a European army and legalize abortion.
Ireland staged a second vote Friday after winning legal assurances from EU chiefs that Brussels would not interfere in any of those areas, nor take away Ireland’s guaranteed ministerial seat on the European Commission.
“We as a nation have taken a decisive step for a stronger, fairer and better Ireland, and a stronger, fairer and better Europe,” Prime Minister Brian Cowen told reporters outside his central Dublin office.
In the Dublin Castle referendum center, electoral chiefs announced the treaty’s approval on a 67.1 percent “yes” vote on a relatively strong 58 percent turnout.
The treaty still requires signatures from the Euro-skeptic heads of state of Poland and the Czech Republic, where national parliaments already have approved the treaty.