Irish voters overwhelmingly back EU reform treaty

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish voters overwhelmingly  endorsed the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty, results  showed yesterday, putting the bloc’s ambitions for greater  global influence firmly back on track.

In a reversal of last year’s “No” vote, more than two-thirds  of voters backed the charter, which gives the 27-country bloc a  long-term president and stronger foreign policy chief.

“Today the Irish people have spoken with a clear and  resounding voice,” Prime Minister Brian Cowen told reporters  from the steps of his office in Dublin. “It is a good day for  Ireland and it is a good day for Europe.”

The result is a relief for Cowen, who would have been likely  to lose his job had it gone the other way. His centre-left  coalition has lost its technical majority in parliament and is  suffering in opinion polls.

In a hard-fought campaign, the government, business leaders  and even celebrities had said a second rejection risked  isolating Ireland while it relied on the goodwill of the  European Central Bank and foreign investors to pull out of one  of the worst recessions in Europe.

The argument appeared to work. Final results showed only two  constituencies out of 43 voting “No,” and middle-class  communities came out strongly in favour of the charter.

Turnout at 59 per cent was also healthy for an EU referendum  in Ireland and comfortably above the 53 per cent seen last year.

“We are in a very difficult economic position and this is an  essential first step towards economic recovery,” Finance  Minister Brian Lenihan said.

The Irish approval turns the spotlight on Poland and the  Czech Republic, whose eurosceptic leaders are now the only  obstacle to the treaty being implemented across the EU.

“Thank you Ireland,” a smiling European Commission President  Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters in Brussels. He and other  European leaders urged the Polish and Czech presidents to sign  the treaty quickly.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski looked set to endorse the  pact within days. The position of Czech President Vaclav Klaus  was less clear even though the country’s prime minister, Jan  Fischer, said Klaus was likely to bend to pressure and sign  after a pending court review.

The treaty is designed to speed up decision-making in a bloc  that has transformed from a community of six countries based on  production of coal and steel to a bloc of half a billion people  stretching from the Atlantic to the eastern Mediterranean.

Its implementation, after over a year of cold storage  following Ireland’s rejection in 2008, is expected to boost the  prospects for further enlargement and reinforce the bloc’s image  as a global force in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Analysts said Ireland’s ratification would give the euro  currency a slight boost as hopes rise for the charter’s  introduction before the end of the year.

Irish debt yield spreads should tighten by five to ten basis  points tomorrow, analysts said, amid relief that the country’s  links to Europe were emphatically endorsed.
Anti-treaty groups reacted with dismay

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