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Irish voters overwhelmingly back EU reform treaty
Sat Oct 3, 2009 11:09am EDT
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By Darren Ennis and Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish voters have approved the EU's Lisbon Treaty, Ireland's foreign minister said on Saturday, reversing last year's shock rejection and pulling the bloc's ambitions for greater global influence out of the deep freeze.
Irish approval, after a fraught and often nasty referendum campaign, turns the spotlight on Poland and the Czech Republic, whose eurosceptic leaders are now the only obstacle to the reform charter's introduction across the 27-country European Union.
"I am delighted for the country. It looks like a convincing win for the 'Yes' side on this occasion," Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told national radio.
In the main Dublin counting center, a cavernous building in the capital's embassy belt, officials shook hands and slapped each other on the back. Preparations were made for celebratory drinks.
Foreign media crews, expecting a tighter result, shrugged their shoulders at an anticlimax.
The referendum marks the first major victory for Ireland's beleaguered Prime Minister Brian Cowen and his center-left coalition as they try to pull Europe's once fastest-growing economy out of one of the worst recessions in the West.
"We are in a very difficult economic position and this is an essential first step toward economic recovery," Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said.
Analysts said Irish debt yield spreads should tighten by around five basis points on the result, offering some relief to a country borrowing 400 million euros ($581 million) a week from international markets.
The official result will not be released until around 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT). Informal tallies put the "Yes" camp ahead at 60-40 percent, a marked turnaround from last year's 53-47 percent rejection as voters apparently heeded warnings that a second dismissal would isolate the country economically.
WILL KLAUS HOLD OUT?
Anti-treaty groups, which had hoped deep anti-government sentiment would yield a second "No," accepted the tide had turned decisively and prayed eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus would fight against ratification.
"I absolutely hope Klaus will hold out," Declan Ganley, one of the leading figures in the "No" side, told reporters. "I'm surprised how big the 'Yes' vote is."
Foreign-exchange specialists said Ireland's thumbs-up would be marginally positive for the euro currency but the focus would quickly refocus on Prague.
"It will be a marginal positive (for the euro) but I think the editorials will pretty quickly switch to the other areas to be resolved such as the Czech response," said Daragh Maher, deputy head of global foreign exchange at Calyon.
The Irish government called the second referendum under pressure from EU leaders and the executive European Commission in Brussels. Continued...
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