Czechs breathe sigh of relief after Irish say "Yes" to Nice

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic's hopes of becoming a full member of the European Union came closer to reality at the weekend, after the people of Ireland said a resounding "Yes" to the Nice Treaty, seen as crucial to plans to expand the EU in 2004. Almost 63 percent said "Yes" this time around - as opposed to the 54 percent who said "No" in the first referendum last year. The result was much better than expected, ending weeks of nervous anticipation among the EU and the candidate countries. Stefan Auer is a Slovak politics lecturer teaching at University College Dublin's European Institute - Radio Prague's Rob Cameron asked him whether he was surprised at the result.

Photo: CTK
"It is definitely. I was very reluctant to predict anything - I was just saying last week that I hoped it would be "Yes". Even though the opinion polls did indicate that there should be a positive answer this time around, the difficulty was that the same kind of opinion polls were around a year ago, so it definitely surprised just about everyone. But what decided it this time I think was the participation, which was significantly higher than last year."

So a higher turnout probably produced this strong result. What was this referendum really about though? Was it about Ireland's neutrality? Was it about farming subsidies? Or was it about the expansion of the EU? There seems to be some confusion over that.

"Well for the "No" camp it was definitely mostly about neutrality and issues like the decline of the power of the member states, the decline of Irish influence in the European Union. But the "Yes" camp stressed again and again that it was really about enlargement, and I think that ultimately they succeeded in getting out this message. Because it seems the Irish people really were unwilling to delay enlargement, or to cause any difficulties in this process."

So they just couldn't take it upon their conscience if you like.


Photo: CTK
When the Irish people voted "No" last year, I think many people in the Czech Republic thought "well Ireland was once a poor country, before it joined the EU, why are they being so vindictive and won't let us in?" Perhaps that was a misunderstanding of the situation, but do you think the people of Ireland now know a little more about people in the candidate countries, and indeed the whole region of Eastern Europe in general?

"Well they certainly know much more about the European Union, because this campaign was very, very pervasive. That is, the issues were discussed much more thoroughly than last year. And indeed, there was some coverage of the applicant countries in the media. But I don't think it was sufficient. So they know more, but they still don't know enough! But the irony of this result and the result last year, is that even the "No" campaign did not argue that they were against enlargement. So to that extent, I suppose you could argue that even the result last year did not indicate that the Irish people were against enlargement."

So it's fair to say then that most people in Ireland are welcome up to 10 new countries into the European Union.

"Yes, I think that's a fair interpretation of this result, definitely."