Strong Irish Vote Boosts Prospects for EC Unity

But legal questions raised by the Danish `no' vote on treaty persist

PROSPECTS for deeper economic and political integration of the European Community are brighter after the Irish voted Thursday to approve the Community's Maastricht Treaty. But the project is not out of the woods yet.

Despite better than 2-to-1 approval in the Irish referendum, the far-reaching treaty still faces the conundrum raised by Denmark's rejection earlier this month: All 12 EC countries must ratify the document.

In addition, France will hold its own referendum on the treaty this fall. Most analysts consider the French vote the crucial hurdle, because of the country's size and its importance as one of the driving forces, along with Germany, for European unity.

Although the French are considered as pro-European as the Irish, recent polls show growing doubts over some of the same issues - national sovereignty, defense, and concerns about lost national identity - that led 51 percent of Danish voters to call for at least a different direction, if not a halt, to European union.

No other EC member countries are now planning referendums on Maastricht, preferring the generally safer route of parliamentary ratification. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is resisting growing pressure for a referendum; a weekend poll showed that more than half his country would vote against the treaty if vote were held today.

But the fact that France's referendum will not take place until at least late September, plus legal questions about the treaty's future raised by the Danish vote, leave prospects for European unification uncertain.

If Ireland's vote could not dispel all that uncertainty, it at least put the EC's integration process "back on track," as Prime Minister Albert Reynolds said.

With a fresh 69 percent "yes" vote from one member country, EC leaders meeting in Lisbon this week will be able to take up the prickly issue of Maastricht's ratification after the Danish vote without feeling their efforts are moot. Still, Irish approval of the treaty does nothing to remove the fundamental problems posed by Denmark, analysts note, nor is it a solid reassurance that the Danish are alone in their skepticism.

If the Irish vote is not considered a fair guide to what other EC voters feel about European union, it is because the Irish are seen to have voted primarily out of self-interest in a country whose economic benefits from EC membership are immense. Ireland receives six times more aid from EC coffers than it pays in.

On the other hand, the intense interest the Irish results held for even average citizens in some EC countries was proof for some that European integration is taking place. "When we realized the French radio was following hour- by-hour the results of an Irish election, and that we were interested because it could affect us, we understood something is already happening," said one resident of a Paris suburb.

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