October 3, 2009 / 9:44 AM / 8 years ago

Irish voters overwhelmingly back EU reform treaty

<p>Supporters of the "Yes" watch the results of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in a pub near the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, October 3, 2009.Francois Lenoir</p>

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish voters overwhelmingly endorsed the European Union's Lisbon reform treaty, results showed on Saturday, 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 center-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 favor of the charter.

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

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


<p>Votes are counted for the Lisbon Treaty referendum at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Dublin, Ireland. October 3, 2009.Cathal McNaughton</p>

The Irish approval turns the spotlight on Poland and the Czech Republic, whose euroskeptic 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 on Monday, analysts said, amid relief that the country's links to Europe were emphatically endorsed.

Anti-treaty groups reacted with dismay.

"It's a decisive victory for the bully boys, the big money men and the bureaucrats," said Nigel Farage, head of the main euroskeptic grouping in the European Parliament. "Out of fear a small country has been bullied into changing its mind."

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