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Irish voters block latest European Union treaty

DUBLIN, Ireland — It took years to negotiate, weighs in at 260 pages, is virtually unreadable — and now could be dead.

Irish voters vetoed, 53 percent to 46 percent, a painstakingly drafted treaty Friday that had been designed to streamline the European Union. Politicians from all of Ireland's major parties worked hard to sell the complex, deeply technical document.

Only Ireland put the treaty before the voters. The other 26 members are ratifying it through their parliaments, in part fearful of what happened to its predecessor, an even bigger, more ambitious constitution that French and Dutch voters torpedoed in 2005.

To become law, the treaty must be approved by all 27 EU nations. But Ireland's constitution requires EU treaties be put to a vote.

The overwhelming majority of Ireland's politicians supported the treaty.

"If I was ever in charge of producing another treaty, I would say strongly to everyone at the table: Would you put something into it that's a big-ticket item that you can actually sell to people? Because this was full of technical detail," said Mary Hanafin, a government minister charged with drumming up support.

This is the second time Ireland has voted against an EU treaty.

"What part of 'no' do they not understand?" asked Declan Ganley, leader of an antitreaty pressure group, Libertas.

Ganley's campaign emphasized the threat to Ireland's unusually low business tax rates, a major reason why 600 U.S. companies have made their European homes in Ireland.

Antitreaty groups from the left and right mobilized "no" voters by claiming the treaty would empower EU chiefs to force Ireland to change core policies — including its military neutrality and its ban on abortion.

What's next?

The defeat throws the 27-member EU into turmoil, its attempt to reform stymied by less than 1 percent of its population. But it is unclear how big a setback the latest vote in Ireland will be. In 2001, Ireland voted against another important attempt at reform, but approved it in a second referendum a year later. In France, senior officials insisted that other European countries must continue their procedures to approve the treaty.

>>Fast facts

Irish voters block latest European Union treaty 06/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 11:48am]
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