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4th Dec 2022

Second Irish referendum linked to Croatian EU accession

  • Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader and EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn in talks this week in Brussels (Photo: European Communities, 2008)

Legal guarantees promised to Ireland and paving the way for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the country are to be written into a protocol together with Croatia's accession treaty to the EU in 2010 or 2011, current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday (12 December).

EU leaders in Brussels this week (11-12 December) agreed to a series of concessions to allow Dublin to make possible a second vote on the bloc's Lisbon Treaty some time in the course of next year.

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These include a guarantee that each member state will keep a commissioner in future European Commissions – despite the document initially foreseeing a reduction of the size of the institution, as well as a promise that the EU would not impose rules on Ireland concerning taxation, "ethical issues" - such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriages - or interfere with its traditional neutrality.

All these issues were highlighted by Dublin as the main concerns of Irish citizens when they first rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June this year.

In order to make these promises legally binding, they will be written into a protocol in Croatia's accession treaty - that has to be ratified by all EU countries to enter into force.

"To give a legal value to the engagements made to Ireland by the 26 other member states, we have committed that at the time of the next EU enlargement – whether that will be in 2010 or in 2011, when probably Croatia will join us ... we will use that to add a protocol [on Ireland] to Croatia's accession treaty," Mr Sarkozy told journalists after the EU summit.

Croatia has held EU candidate status since 2004 and opened EU accession talks in 2005. Last month, the European Commission said it could conclude accession negotiations with the bloc by the end of next year, if it fulfills the remaining conditions.

But the French leader's statement represents the clearest indication so far that the Balkan country could effectively become the bloc's 28th member state by 2011 at the latest.

Second referendum in Ireland next year

In exchange for receiving concessions from the other EU countries, Ireland has committed to holding a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty by November 2009.

"The Irish government is committed to seeking ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of the term of the current [European] Commission," in November 2009, reads the document agreed by the 27 EU leaders.

Irish Taoisheach Brian Cowen later confirmed that if Ireland's requirements are met, its citizens will vote again on the document.

"On the basis of the agreement today, and on condition of our being able to satisfactory put guarantees in place ... I would be prepared to return to the public to put to them a new package and to seek their approval of it," he told journalists.

"I am convinced that we are on the right path," he added. "The views of the Irish people are being respected."

He said he was "particularly pleased" that the requirement of keeping a commissioner for Ireland had been met.

"This was very hard fought, and ... it is a major achievement by Ireland. Several member states were strongly opposed," the taoiseach said.

He did stress however that there was still "a lot of detailed work to be carried out in the months ahead" in order to clarify how exactly Ireland would get all its guarantees, but added that he was hopeful the Irish citizens would eventually be satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations and back the Lisbon Treaty.

Croatia could conclude EU accession talks in 2009

Croatia could conclude accession negotiations with the EU by the end of next year, if it fulfills the remaining conditions, while Serbia could become an official EU candidate, according to a draft report on the western Balkan countries' progress towards the EU that the European Commission will present next week.

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