BRUSSELS, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Europe's political elite breathed a collective sigh of relied Sunday after the Irish electorate voted to endorse the Nice Treaty, a European Union blueprint seen as vital for the future expansion of the 15-member bloc.
Final figures show that 63 percent of voters said 'Yes' to the much-criticized treaty, while 37 percent voted 'No.'
The result is a reversal of last year's referendum, when voters created a political earthquake in Europe by narrowly rejecting the enlargement rulebook.
Commentators put Sunday's verdict down to an increased turnout -- 48 percent, compared to 34 percent last time -- and an aggressive 'Yes' campaign backed by the government, the main opposition parties, trade unions, business associations and the Catholic church.
Holding the referendum on a Saturday -- a day of rest for most Irish people -- was also believed to have boosted turnout.
The Irish decision paves the way for the enlargement of the EU to take in 10 central and eastern European countries that have been waiting to join the club for over a decade.
EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels Thursday through Friday to decide on how to foot the bill for the Union's biggest ever expansion.
On Sunday, however, they were happy to bask in the reflected glow of the Irish result.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who staked his political reputation on reversing last year's 'No' vote, said: "Today is an historic day in our relationship with our sister states in Europe. It shows we remain strongly committed to the European Union - that we fully recognize that what is good for the people of Europe is good for the people of Ireland."
European Commission Romano Prodi said: "I am delighted that the Irish people have voted to approve the Nice Treaty. We can now get on with finalizing preparations for enlargement of the European Union."
Danish Premier Anders Fogh-Rasmussen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, described the referendum result as a "clear and positive signal to the central and eastern European countries that all EU countries take enlargement seriously."
The leaders of the ten countries that are expected to receive an invitation to join the EU in December also warmly welcomed the news from Dublin.
"There is reason for joy," said Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. "It shows that no internal problems can overshadow the great idea which is the expansion of the European Union."
The President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, said the vote was of "fundamental importance for our future in Europe."