NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus, a leading candidate to join the European Union, sent a «big thank you» to Ireland yesterday for approving EU enlargement. «A big thank you to the people of Ireland from Cyprus. I think today is another fundamental step in the enlargement process of the European Union,» government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou told AFP. «We expected a ‘Yes’ despite previous polls, because there was a very big political effort and we are accustomed to Ireland playing a full role in European integration,» he said. Papapetrou was speaking after Ireland, in a vote on Saturday, gave a ringing endorsement to EU plans to push east, keeping the bloc’s historic expansion project on track and reversing the shock result of another referendum last year. Cyprus, among 10 other enlargement candidates, received the thumbs-up to join the 15-member bloc in 2004 from the European Commission in a landmark decision earlier this month.