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Merkel calls on Irish voters to back EU treaty

14/04/2008 - 20:12

By Andras Gergely

DUBLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel calledon Irish voters on Monday to back the European Union reformtreaty, as a new poll showed a majority of Irish were undecidedabout how they would vote in the June 12 referendum.

Ireland is the only EU country planning a referendum on thetreaty and a "No" vote from one of the bloc's smallest statescould topple the project designed to end years of wranglingover reform of Europe's institutions.

The treaty gives the European Union a long-term president,a stronger foreign policy chief, a streamlined decision-makingsystem and more say for national and European parliaments.

Merkel's visit came as a Red C poll in The Irish Sunnewspaper showed 60 percent of voters were undecided on whetherto back the successor to the EU's failed constitution. Just 28percent planned to support it and 12 percent were opposed.

Of 1,001 people surveyed, 65 percent said they had verylittle or no understanding of the treaty, 28 percent had someunderstanding and 6 percent professed to have a full grasp.

"It is not always easy to understand how Europe works,"Merkel said during a visit to Dublin.

In a speech to Irish lawmakers, she drew on her experiencegrowing up in communist East Germany to extol the virtues ofthe European Union.

"Looking back on my own life, unification and the creationof the European Union is the best thing that has happened inEurope and its long history," Merkel said.

"To my mind, the Lisbon (reform) treaty offers the bestpreparation for Europe's future."

IRISH NEUTRALITY

Irish voters are seen as some of the most pro-European inthe EU -- 89 percent surveyed in Monday's poll said membershiphad been good for Ireland -- but in 2001 they rejected the NiceTreaty designed to enable EU enlargement.

That "No" vote forced the government to hold a secondreferendum that was widely criticised as undemocratic.Ministers have accepted such a re-run is not an option thistime round.

Most Irish politicians favour the pact but outgoing PrimeMinister Bertie Ahern has acknowledged the government faces anuphill battle to convince people of the treaty's merits due toits lack of radical reforms.

Opponents see Merkel's visit as part of a pro-treaty driveby EU heavyweights to sway voters. European CommissionPresident Jose Manual Barroso is to visit Dublin later thisweek.

"Over the coming weeks I am sure that many EU leaders willbe scrambling to our shores to lobby for a yes vote in thereferendum," said Mary Lou McDonald, a European lawmaker andmember of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party.

Sinn Fein is the only political party represented inIreland's Dail (lower house of parliament) opposed to thetreaty. It has four seats in the 166-seat chamber.

Responding to Merkel's speech, McDonald said the treatyrehashed a constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in2005 and would weaken Ireland's influence.

"Ireland is traditionally a neutral state and thatneutrality is underpinned by a capacity to have an independentforeign policy position," McDonald told the audience, addingthat the treaty "undermines that yet again".

Merkel denied it creates a European super-state.

"The Irish prime minister can at any time say we're not forthis and it won't be common foreign policy," she said.

(Writing by Paul Hoskins; Editing by Mary Gabriel)


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