'Disarray' warning if Nice treaty is rejected this month

 

EU enlargement will be thrown into disarray if Ireland rejects the Nice Treaty for a second time, Ireland's highest-ranking European Commission official warned, write Mark Hennessy, in Brussels, and Mark Brennock

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr David O'Sullivan, the Commission's secretary-general, said: "A lot is hanging on the Irish vote. If Nice is not ratified, we will go into a very difficult situation."

As the Cabinet and Fianna Fáil Ministers of State prepare for meetings today to discuss campaign strategy, Mr O'Sullivan urged voters to base their decision on the treaty's proposals.

"If Ireland will block this, we had better be very sure about why we are doing it," he said. "I am not saying that we can't do it. We have the power to do it."

Senior Brussels figures yesterday emphasised that the existing Amsterdam Treaty - which allows for five more states to join the EU - cannot now be used.

"There are 10 waiting. What possible criteria could we use to choose? Do we say that we will take the Slovenes, but not the Czechs?" said Mr Jonathan Faull, the head of the Commission's Press Service. He was speaking during an EU-sponsored briefing tour for Irish journalists.

Meanwhile, Ireland's European Commissioner, Mr David Byrne, said the candidates in central and eastern Europe, along with Cyprus and Malta, were "in a state of high anxiety" as they waited for the Irish result.

Sharply criticising the Green Party's opposition to the referendum, he said: "I am not filled with admiration for the stance that the Greens have advocated on this. It mystifies me. I believe that there is an element of opportunism."

Warning that there was no Plan B to cope with a second No vote, Mr O'Sullivan said it would reopen "the Pandora's Box". "We don't know what the other 14 member-states would do," he declared.

"People will not understand why Ireland has put Europe in this situation. They do not feel there is a vital national interest threatened that would justify taking the step to block it," he warned.

The European Commission will next week issue its assessment of the preparations carried out to date by the candidate countries. This will form a key element of talks due to take place at the next EU summit in Copenhagen.

The Cabinet will today hear a report on the progress of the campaign so far, while Fianna Fáil Ministers and Ministers of State will have a separate meeting to discuss strategy.

The Ministers are to be asked to clear as many engagements as possible off their diaries to free themselves to campaign for a Yes vote. Fianna Fáil sources said yesterday the party would mount a major canvass at shopping centres and outside churches throughout the State next weekend.

The Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, Mr John McGuinness, has called on the Government to show leadership in the referendum campaign. In an article in today's Irish Times, he writes: "It is not good enough for Ministers to use their time to fly kites and engage in spin on local issues.

"It is time for a united, focused national effort and time to acknowledge, too, that the Irish people are right in their demands that the Government show leadership and energy."

He makes it clear he is not questioning the leadership of Mr Ahern. The Taoiseach has shown himself to be "an astute and skilful politician", he says, and he is confident he will "find his feet" and do what is necessary to restore confidence in the Government and the country.