If anyone has the energy to think about the European Constitution at the moment, I’m afraid this entry will not encourage you to keep up the effort.
Last week, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) put on a show for those of us in Brussels who are interested: a lunchtime meeting, discussing the way forward after the “period of reflection” on the fate of the Constitutional Treaty. The speakers were the leaders of the three main pan-European political parties – for the European People’s Party, former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens; for the Party of European Socialists, former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen; and for the Liberals, Belgian politician Annemie Neyts.
I found it a depressing meeting, depressing because of the complicit complacency of the three.
All three believed that EU member states have a duty to continue ratifying the constitution (fifteen have so far done so, with Finland apparently likely to follow suit this month), despite the “no” votes from France and the Netherlands. Those who are dragging their feet were roundly condemned. There should be no defeatist talk of “cherry-picking” the It is, apparently, all the fault of national political leaders who have failed to think of the European common good and instead, we were told, think only in national terms.
The argument then goes that once four-fifths of EU member states (ie 20 at the moment, 22 after Romania and Bulgaria join) have ratified the Constitutional Treaty, the European Council can amend the glorious document to make it acceptable to the French and Dutch, and then win renewed referendums. Exactly what amendments might make the French and Dutch change their mind remains deeply unclear. Exactly how a treaty that was acceptable to the French and Dutch might be made acceptable to the electorates of the more traditionally Eurosceptic countries, such as the British, remains equally unclear.
The arguments put forward by the panellists as to the necessity of a Constitution for the EU were very poor. We were told that the decision-making process set up by the Treaty of Nice is so complex that it is unworkable. (One of only two points put from the floor was from a CEPS researcher, reporting that their research indicates that in fact the Nice mechanisms are working perfectly well in practice.) We were told that without the constitution, there would be no provision for choosing a smaller Commission after the 2009 European elections. (The other speaker from the floor pointed out that there are, in fact, several ways of getting around this problem.) We were told that the European public were very keen on having an EU constittuional settlement. Well, the most compelling direct evidence on this point is surely that of the French and Dutch referenda, which points rather in the opposite direction.
Of the three panellists, Rasmussen was much the best speaker. Martens, although he made a few good points, went on for far too long, and Neyts, since she agreed completely with the other two, could only repeat what they had said.
Some day, perhaps, the debates between the different pan-European political parties, telling us their different visions for Europe, will inspire and uplift us all to greater political participation in the European project. For now, it is profoundly depressing that the three appear to have essentially the same vision of the way forward for the EU, and that that vision is so far divorced from the political realities of the 25 (soon 27) member states.