The Treaty of Nice
is a European treaty
which was agreed by all EU
Member States on 11 December 2000.
Its main purpose is to make changes in the institutions governing the EU, such as the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, etc.
The reason given for many of these changes is to allow enlargement of the EU without drastically slowing down decision-making procedures.
The treaty became the subject of widespread debate in Europe after, on June 7, 2001, Ireland (which was the only EU state required to hold a referendum on the issue due to constitutional reasons) rejected the treaty as it currently stood.
Ireland was widely condemned, as many believed that its reasons for rejecting the treaty were purely selfish (an increased number of poor member states -> less subsidy cash for Ireland).
However the turnout at the referendum was very poor, the No campaign was much stronger than the government-supported Yes campaign, and there is strong evidence to believe that, had a vote on the treaty been held in other existing member states, it may also have been rejected.
The result was a source of much embarrassment for the Irish Government, and it remains to be seen whether
a) the treaty will be passed anyway, ignoring the Irish vote
b) the treaty will be renegotiated
c) the treaty will be put to another vote in Ireland, without being changed
The countries awaiting membership are as follows: Bulgaria Hungary Poland Cyprus Latvia Romania Czech Republic Lithuania Slovakia Estonia Malta Slovenia Turkey
Update 14th October 2002: The treaty is to be put to another vote in Ireland, leading to much criticism and allegations of 'anti-democratic' behaviour; the people didn't vote 'correctly' last time, and are now being tested again so they might get the right answer.
I don't agree with the above - mainly due to the low (20%) turnout at the last referendum, which does bring about the whole question of compulsory voting as practised in Australia for example. It isn't true that the country rejected Nice, but rather that just over half of that 20% rejected Nice. There is strong evidence that many Yes voters didn't bother to vote, convinced that it didn't matter since all the major government parties supported it.
It's interesting to observe the contrasting approach used by the Yes campaign this time around. The first vote was put to the people in a very low-key manner - none of the issues were explained, and although a telephone poll the night before showed the Treaty being passed by a 2:1 majority, the next day's events (obviously) didn't reflect this.
This time, some government parties are spending three times the amount they spent on their election campaigns. This includes both Yes and No camps - typical posters read "Save Irish Jobs: Vote No to Nice" and "Save Irish Jobs: Vote Yes on Saturday" (very much along the same lines as the recent abortion referendum, where voters were encouraged to "Save Irish Babies: Vote No" alongside "Save Irish Babies: Vote Yes" - in actual fact splitting the pro-Life campaign down the middle, but that's another writeup).
Of course, polling day for Nice is now on a Saturday (October 19, 2002) to ensure the highest turnout possible (the original vote was held on a Thursday). The government will see this Treaty passed at any cost. Embarrassment at the highest level will result otherwise.