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Parliaments, not voters, to ratify new EU treaty

London Telegraph | July 30, 2007
Justin Stares

The new European Union treaty has several hurdles to jump before it can become law.

Ireland, where voters rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001, looks set for another vote next year. "I'm assuming we will have to have a referendum," Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, told opposition leaders last month.

Ireland's shock 2001 rejection of the original treaty forced Dublin to seek an amendment ensuring the country could not be dragged unwillingly into EU military action. After obtaining it, a second referendum was held, and a majority voted yes. The Irish would again be expected to vote yes to the new treaty.

Denmark is another country where a new vote could take place. The Danes have rejected a key EU treaty before in a referendum - the Maastricht Treaty - though approved it in a second vote after Copenhagen obtained an opt-out from the euro and from moves towards a common EU defence.

According to a recent poll, more than half of all Danes want a referendum on the new treaty, though Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Prime Minister, has yet to commit himself.

In Holland, debate on the desirability and necessity of another vote has split parliament. The hot potato has therefore been handed to the country's highest court, the Council of State.

In Portugal, too, there could be a referendum, although the country's long-standing pro-European bias would make the outcome of any such vote a foregone conclusion.

The French are not expected get another chance to vote because the new "mini-treaty" was the brainchild of President Nicolas Sarkozy. He made it clear that he would only put the text to a vote in parliament during his election campaign earlier this year.

The more sceptical EU countries are not expected to bar ratification for the same reason: parliaments, not the people, will decide. This is also the case in the Czech Republic, where the new treaty enjoys support among the government and the opposition, and in Poland though here the outcome is less easy to predict.

In the remaining EU member states, moves towards greater integration enjoy either a majority or overwhelming support.

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