Irish voters reject European Union treaty

In a significant setback for efforts to reform Europe's unwieldy institutions, Irish voters on Friday rejected a European Union treaty to change the way the bloc of nearly 500 million people governs itself and presents itself to the world.

The defeat, by a margin of 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent, throws the 27-member bloc into turmoil, its latest attempt to reform stymied by less than one percent of its population.

Jos Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, conceded that “all indications” were that Ireland had rejected the treaty, news agencies reported.

Ireland is the only country in the European Union to put the pact to a referendum. The other member states are voting on it through their parliaments and 18 have backed it so far, but European Union rules require unanimous support for the treaty to come into effect.

The treaty is supposed to make the European Union function more efficiently — especially now that it has grown to 27 members – and would give the European Union its first full-time president and create a foreign policy chief. If it is abandoned, it will frustrate Europe's ambitions to play a more cohesive and forceful role on the world stage.

The rejection in Ireland follows the abandonment of an earlier effort at reform – the bloc's proposed constitutional treaty – following painful defeats in referendums in the Netherlands and France in 2005. The new treaty was meant to replace that earlier effort.

But it is unclear how big a setback the latest vote in Ireland will be. In 2001, Ireland voted against another important attempt at reform. Yet, Ireland approved it in a second referendum a year later.

Even so, the rejection appears to underscore the lingering unpopularity among many ordinary voters toward greater integration among the continent's nations.