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Ireland Votes On EU Fiscal Pact


A person walks past a placard on May 30 urging a "no" vote in the referendum on the EU fiscal pact and another sign that announces that the town, Clones, welcomes the old Irish currency, the punt.
Voters in Ireland have been casting ballots on a referendum on whether to approve a new European fiscal treaty aimed at strengthening the troubled eurozone.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of Irish voters will support the German-led pact -- which calls for penalties on eurozone countries that fail to balance their budgets.

The deficit-fighting pact is designed to bind Ireland and other debt-crippled eurozone member countries to tighter spending limits.

Ireland requires the treaty to be approved by a majority vote in a public referendum. More than 3 million voters were eligible to cast a ballot on May 31. Official results were expected to be announced on June 1.

Twenty-five of the European Union's 27 members have signed the so-called Fiscal Stability Treaty.

Only the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom failed to sign the pact. Neither is a member of the euro currency.

The treaty would come into force at the beginning of 2013, if it is ratified by 12 of the 17 eurozone countries. Four countries already have ratified it.

This means that a rejection by Irish voters would not be enough to bring the initiative to a halt.

But a "no" vote in the Irish referendum risks undermining the initiative just as fiscal problems are mounting in Spain and Greece.

Anger At Europe

The Irish vote comes amid moves by France's new President Francois Hollande to redirect European fiscal policies to focus on growth, rather than austerity cuts, as the key to curing Europe's economic crisis.

Ireland already has received a $106 billion bailout from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Irish government has warned voters that a "no" vote could jeopardize the country's chances of securing another international bailout if needed in 2013 when the current supply of bailout cash runs out.

After voting on May 31, Aidan Crowly, from Castlebar in the west of the country, maintained that many in Ireland blame other European countries for their own struggling economy.

"I think many, many people are very annoyed with Europe," he said. "They see Europe as, to a large extent, the problem that now arises in Ireland. I think that is unfair. I think we need to look at ourselves also."

Indeed, campaigners against the fiscal treaty have been tapping into public anger in Ireland after four years of austerity cuts and the sense among many voters that the country is no longer in control of its own destiny.

Led by the Sinn Fein party and a small number of trade unions, those campaigning against the treaty contend that it is an empty EU threat.

They say Ireland should vote "no," then demand a better debt-management deal from the EU and IMF that involves greater write-offs of state-owned bank debt.

They also say Europe will not dare cut Ireland off if it needs further funding when the current bailout runs out next year.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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