Saturday, 14 April 2007

Constitution by the backdoor

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT – This week the European Parliament’s constitutional committee had debates with two former members of the convention – the body that drew up the EU constitution.

Both presented different methods for getting the major parts of the rejected constitution approved, by the backdoor, with no referendums.

The new Dutch minister of European affairs, Frans Timmermans, would change the name ‘Constitution’ to a new ‘treaty’ and delete the EU state symbols – the flag and the hymn – from the treaty, but not from the real world.

He suggested turning Part II of the proposed constitution on the charter of fundamental rights into one line, accepting them without mentioning them.

Part III should be changed into amendments to the actual treaty of Nice incorporating most of the 59 new areas with qualified majority voting.

Essentially, that would mean the same content, only avoiding a referendum.

Meanwhile, Pierre Lequiller, head of the National Assembly’s EU delegation, proposed a similar outline bringing the treaty down to 116 articles. He would, however, include the fundamental rights part.

It was striking that they both seek to avoid asking the opinion of their people on any new EU treaty. This is also the policy of the favourite candidate for the French Presidential elections, Nicholas Sarkozy.

He is the ‘Coup d’Etat candidate’, aiming to adopt a rejected constitution with no new consultation of the people.

No more referendums! This is the lesson after the French and Dutch “No.” They had the opportunity to vote yes, which they did not do and now they will not be asked again.

How naive to believe it will work. The voters in France and the Netherlands are not blind. They opposed a constitution against the advice of 90 per cent of their own parliamentary representatives.

But the democratic opposition in Europe has not gone into hiding and we will certainly mobilise the citizens for a democratic procedure to be followed.

We will now reshape a European referendum campaign to call for referendums in all member states, which could occur on the same day across Europe. (A referendum petition webs ite can be found here )

I strongly believe we should have a new elected convention and referendums the same day throughout the EU. That method will foster the transparency, proximity and democracy rules we all deserve.

Final roadmap in June
This non-consultation method is being echoed at the highest levels.

The German EU presidency has already started bilateral talks on the constitution with every single member state, avoiding general consultation and keeping stumm about what other governments have said.

The German chancellor will then deliver the final roadmap with the suggested content to the incoming Portuguese presidency at the 21-22 June summit in Brussels.

To keep complete control, the German presidency has established a three-country-leadership whereby the following Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies are involved so that everyone remains on message.

Berlin can then also use its role as ‘paymaster’ in the EU to force difficult countries like Poland and the Czech Republic to play ball and its special relations to France and the Netherlands to finalise negotiations on the next treaty.

New name – same content
The reborn constitution will not be called a constitution, but a basic treaty. But changing the name does not change the content.

The June summit will see the final roadmap drawn up for the next treaty. This will then be followed an intergovernmental conference and a special summit in the autumn in a Portuguese city after which the new document will be named.

The German presidency will strive to avoid any fundamental change and safeguard the core which is qualified majority in 59 articles in addition to the existing treaty of Nice.

It is also in its interests to push ahead because the rejected constitution contains the new double majority voting system meaning that German ministers and civil servants will double their say while smaller countries can half their votes in the Council.

Unfortunately, German voters will not be asked their opinion on the document. It would be an interesting exercise as I have the impression that there is real anger in Germany at Brussels bureaucracy.

The former German president, Roman Herzog, recently wrote that Germany can hardly be called a parliamentary democracy because of the democratic deficit in EU law making.

This is a poor reflection of democracy in the EU. As I write this, I am thinking back to the EU’s official 50th birthday celebrations in Berlin last month.

An occasion with much pomp and ceremony and many inspiring speeches, it was a good reminder that it was the people outside, the ordinary citizens, who made it a really good party.

By Jens-Peter Bonde

The author is a member of the European Parliament for the Independence/Democracy group

This article first appeared on EU Observer