European Constitution: Obstinate Leaders Push Ahead

So we’re all agreed. One year after the “no” votes, the leaders of the EU have decided to make the text binding by 2009. The new Italian government says it interprets the “no” votes as “a demand for more Europe, not less”. The Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt suggests changing the rules so that the European Constitution may be adopted by a qualified majority vote. The Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel says that ratification should be completed in 2007. Angela Merkel says the text is “vital to German interests”. The European Commission plans to push ahead with as much of the constitution as it can, with or without formal approval.

Am I forgetting anyone? Oh yes, there is one lonely voice of dissent: that of the ordinary citizen who, when invited to express an opinion on the Constitution, usually rejects it. Opinion has swung against the constitution over the past 12 months, both in France and the Netherlands and in those countries whose governments pushed ahead with ratification.

The distinction between governments and peoples has been explicitly acknowledged by the constitution’s chief author, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. “It is not France that has said ‘no’ to the constitution,” he said last week, “it is 55 per cent of French people.” France, in other words, is represented, not by its ill-informed population, but by its former President. “L’état, c’est Giscard.”

Giscard is turning on its head a principle which Europeans have spent 300 years fighting to establish, namely that rulers should be accountable to their people. To be fair, he is not alone. A certain disregard for democracy is integral to the European project. Eurocrats are well aware that the EU would never have got to where it is today if each successive transfer of power to Brussels had been referred to the national electorates for approval. They see no dishonour in this; on the contrary, they are forever congratulating themselves on their determined leadership.

The Luxemburgian Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was at it again this week, urging Europe’s governments to ignore their voters. In an interview with the radio station Deutschlandfunk, he said: “If Kohl and Waigel had held a consultation exercise, we would never have had the euro.” Indeed. And would that have been such a bad thing? I can’t help noticing that, since the euro was introduced in 1999, the EU members with the highest growth rates have been the ones that stayed out: Britain, Denmark and Sweden. And why did they stay out? Because they had to consult their peoples.

More on this topic:

Eurocrats Are Circling Their Wagons, 9 May 2006

Obsessed with Constitution as Europe Sinks, 7 March 2006

Merkel Will Force Constitution on Europe, 23 December 2005

The Zombie Constitution, 29 September 2005

The Constitution Is In Force, 18 July 2005