Prodi says Irish vote is greatest obstacle to enlargement


European Commission President

Mr Romano Prodi has said he was worried about the Irish vote on the Nice Treaty later this year, but expressed confidence the expansion would go ahead as planned in 2004.

In an interview with El Paisnewspaper, Mr Prodi said the Irish vote was the greatest single obstacle to plans agreed two years ago to admit up to 10 new countries to the European Union.

I think there will not be any delays. My real fear is about the Irish referendum.
European Commission President Mr Romano Prodi

The treaty will expire if not signed by all EU members by the end of 2002, complicating the admission of new states. "I think...there will not be any delays," Prodi told the newspaper. "My real fear is about the Irish referendum".

Ireland is the only one of the 15 EU states which is required by its constitution to endorse any new Union treaty by referendum. The others require only parliamentary ratification.

"The process of (parliamentary) ratification will be very long, but it is highly unlikely that any country would block the process of enlargement," Prodi said.

Prodi, a former Italian prime minister, has said recently he believed guarantees of Irish neutrality should encourage voters to approve the referendum.