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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Q&A: Nice Treaty
The Nice Treaty was thrashed out at last year's European Summit, and was supposed to pave the way for enlargement. But Irish voters - the only electorate in Europe to get a direct say - turned it down. The BBC's Tamsin Smith looks at what that means for the treaty - and for this weekend's summit in Gothenburg.

Q: Have Irish voters killed the treaty by rejecting it?

EU officials have already stated that they will not launch a total renegotiation of the treaty, so currently it lives on in its existing form. Another Irish referendum will be held, possibly with reassurances attached on some of the voters' concerns. The job of ratifying the treaty in all national parliaments before the end of 2002 is continuing - France passed it only this week.

Q: What happens it gets rejected again?

A second Irish referendum could potentially lead to another rejection of the treaty and cause a major institutional crisis, not to mention intense embarrassment all round.

There are echoes here of 1992 when Danish voters said No first time round to the Maastricht Treaty back but then in a second referendum in 1993, they voted Yes. Denmark was offered provisional opt outs on unpalatable issues such as defence and the single currency as a sweetener.

It remains to be seen if the EU decides to go down this path with Ireland, and offers that a political declaration be attached to the treaty in order to soothe Irish concerns over issues such as its neutrality.

Q: What are the main provisions of the treaty?

The Nice Treaty was trumpeted as a way to streamline Europe's cumbersome and outdated institutions in preparation for new countries joining.

The result of the messy summit, however, was a larger commission and parliament and a reweighting of votes in the council so complex that it takes a mathematical genius to understand it. The treaty includes agreement on:

  • Reweighting votes in the Council of Ministers
  • Increasing the ceiling on the European Parliament from 626 to 732 in 2004
  • Capping the size of the European Commission at 27
  • Extending majority voting on some issues
  • Allowing groups of eight or more countries to forge ahead with closer co-operation in certain areas
  • Laying groundwork for rapid reaction force.

Q: Is enlargement possible without the Nice Treaty?

Theoretically yes, although there are limits. Some analysts are saying that the first wave of enlargement could still go ahead as planned.

The current Amsterdam Treaty allows enlargement to up to five new Member States before 2006.

Institutional issues, such as the participation of the new members in the European Parliament, Council and Commission, could also theoretically be resolved by additional treaty agreements.

Q: How will leaders at the Gothenburg summit handle the situation?

They will be on major damage limitation control! The Europeans wanted to show Bush that the enlargement project is on track - a "fait accompli". Instead of this, he will see enlargement as a divisive and difficult issue for the Europeans.

The fact that Ireland - a well known European enthusiast - has failed miserably to sell a credible political case for the Nice Treaty will occupy much table talk with other EU leaders keen to hear the Irish Prime Minster say when he plans to hold the second referendum.

Q: Is the treaty unpopular in other countries too - and is it now seen as a poor piece of work?

In fact the treaty was never popular - remember the four days and nights of bitter arguments and power struggles at the Nice summit in December 2000. But, although not a success, the treaty is seen by many European politicians as a means to an end - that end being enlargement.

Although Ireland is the only country to litmus-test the Nice Treaty for public support, it is important to realise that in fact the Irish situation could well have occurred in any European country had they too needed referendums in order to ratify.

Recent opinion polls indicate that there are rising fears in many EU countries about enlargement as well as reservations about further political union. The Austrian Freedom Party has already called for Austria to also hold a referendum too.

Q: How have prospective EU members reacted to Ireland's rejection

Many applicant countries look to Ireland as a mentor - a model for economic growth and success which has blossomed from EU membership.

The front runners for EU membership - Slovenia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Estonia - have expressed shock and disappointment at the Irish result. They hope that enlargement will not be knocked off course.

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