EU Enlargement as a Factor in Ireland's Nice Treaty Referendum.
Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs, 7 (3).
In the aftermath of the shock result of the Nice Treaty referendum in Ireland in June 20011 it
was commonly stated that the result did not represent the electorate’s rejection of European
Union (EU) enlargement. In fact both supporters and opponents of the Nice Treaty agreed
wholeheartedly on this point. The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and his Foreign Minister
assured their counterparts in the EU and the candidate states of Central and Eastern Europe
(CEE) that purely domestic factors explained the result –enlargement had not been an issue.
Opponents of the Treaty, similarly, couched every public statement with an insistence that
they were in favour of enlargement. These claims were treated with some scepticism in the
CEE candidate states. Not only would the result complicate the ongoing enlargement
negotiations; it might postpone accession indefinitely.
This article has one central objective: it seeks to analyse the extent to which the issue of EU
enlargement really mattered in the 2001 and 2002 Nice Treaty referendum campaigns and,
more generally, in the evolving European debate in Ireland. The analysis proceeds through an
examination of four crucial issue areas that figured prominently in the Nice Treaty campaign
of 2001 and have remained to the fore in discussion at the National Forum on Europe
throughout 2002.2 On each of these issues there exist profound disagreements between
Ireland’s pro-Europeans and an emerging Euro-sceptic lobby. Analysis of each individual
issue is set out against the contextual arguments deployed regarding enlargement. Further, it is
contended the range of concerns expressed in Ireland about enlargement, whether with respect
to institutional reform or policy issues, also exist in many other EU states. Indeed, fear and
unease about the implications of enlargement permeate political dicsourse across the EU. This
article begins by analysing the reaction to the shock 2001 referendum result across Europe.
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