A historic green light for the enlargement of the European Union. That's the verdict on the resounding majority handed down by Irish voters on Oct. 19 in favor of the Nice Treaty, the legal framework for an enlarged and reformed EU. A "no" vote would have been a disaster, derailing the 2004 accession of 10 new member states from Central and Eastern Europe.
Yet Europeans shouldn't delude themselves. Enlargement--the greatest challenge faced by the EU in four decades--is far from a done deal. For one, divisions over how to foot the potentially huge long-term cost of enlargement have become increasingly bitter. French farmers are unwilling to give up billions of dollars in annual agricultural subsidies. The Germans, facing yawning budget deficits and a moribund economy, are no longer willing to single-handedly finance EU programs. Smaller countries such as Portugal, Austria, and Denmark are growing angry about what they perceive is a double standard favoring the EU's big nations. European countries have rarely seemed so far apart on important issues, just when wavering public opinion ought to be rallied to the cause of expansion.
Expansion is a golden opportunity to inject competition and energy into the heart of the EU, which increasingly looks like Japan in the 1990s. The best thing Germany and France could do is to bring in Polish and other Eastern European workers and entrepreneurs.
Enlargement will probably just squeak through at the end of the day. More than a few Poles, Hungarians, and Czechs must be wondering just what kind of community they will soon be joining. Today, it's politically divided, economically depressed, and unable to agree on some of the most basic questions about what the future EU should be like. Not the best circumstances for a long and happy union.