Irish overwhelmingly OK treaty of unity with Europe Vote of approval approaches 70%

June 20, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Staff Writer Ian Johnson in Berlin contributed to this article.

SKIBBEREEN, Ireland -- The Irish gave the Maastricht Treaty on European union a kiss of life yesterday, with nearly 70 percent approving the same document narrowly rejected less than a month ago by the Danes.

"It is a day of national celebration," said Prime Minister Albert Reynolds. "Euro-skeptics do not have much of a following here in Ireland."

The response elsewhere in Europe was equally exultant. Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany said he "emphatically welcomed the decision of the Irish people. It was important they didn't allow themselves to be influenced by the tiny majority in the Danish referendum."

Jacques Delors, the president of the European Council, the godfather of the Maastricht Treaty, said in Paris that the vote was important for Ireland and Europe.

"Europe is a long-term project," he said. "The choice is simple. It is a choice between survival, prosperity or decline."

The British government, more subdued, said that it was pleased with the vote and that "the treaty reflects the British agenda."

If the Danish veto can somehow be overcome and the treaty eventually ratified by all 12 member states of the European Community, it will take these states to monetary union under a single currency.

The Maastricht Treaty, named after the Dutch town where it was signed in December, would also move the 12 toward common foreign and domestic policies.

Through the creation of a new cohesion fund, it would elevate the living standards and strengthen the economies of the EC's four poorest nations: Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

Ireland, one of the largest recipients of EC funds since it entered in 1973 ($30 billion), is believed to have voted for its pocketbook.

With a turnout of 55 per cent, the majority turned back an intense campaign against ratification by anti-abortion forces fearful that permissive European law on abortion might be introduced into the island.

The Roman Catholic Church abstained from overt campaigning, but some priests in rural parishes such as are found here in County Cork urged a "no" vote from their pulpits.

In the abortion referendum of 1983 and the divorce referendum of 1986, conservative rural voters defeated both initiatives, many of them influenced by their priests.

But this time the vote in the countryside was stronger for Europe than the city vote, probably because of the lavish EC agricultural funds.

"Cork gets about half of the 2 billion pounds that come in every year," said Liam O'Regan, editor of the Southern Star newspaper in Skibbereen. "Most of the grants go to the farmers; the rest goes for work on the roads."

Others opposed the treaty on grounds that a tightly knit EC would undermine Ireland's policy of neutrality, bring European military conscription to Ireland and diminish its sovereignty.

The Danish rejection June 2 threw the future of the treaty into serious doubt and encouraged anti-Europe forces throughout the EC.

Since then the strategy for supporters of the treaty has been to see it ratified by the other 11 states, and then to give the Danes another chance.

The next test of this strategy will be in France in the fall, where polls indicate that the vote will be "yes."

Germany is expected to follow with a positive vote of its Parliament.

The question of how to extract the monkey wrench the Danes threw into ratification is not on the agenda of the EC summit next week in Lisbon. But issues are that will have a bearing on it.

One of those is the widening of the EC. Among the countries to be admitted by the mid-1990s are Norway and Sweden, which expected to join under a regime including the benefits and commitments of the Maastricht Treaty.

Treaty supporters hope that the new members can influence Denmark to reconsider.

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