Let’s review where we stand, shall we? Since the French and Dutch “No” votes, five more states have approved the European Constitution, bringing to 18 the number of nations to have ratified. Meanwhile, every government remains devoted to the text.
Germany’s Angela Merkel says the European constitution is “vital to German interests.” Italy’s Romano Prodi says he interprets the “No” votes as “a demand for more Europe, not less.” Spain insists that its “Yes” vote be allowed to stand. Austria and Finland want ratification to be completed by the end of 2007, and Belgium suggests changing the rules so that this can happen by a majority vote rather than by unanimity.
In France, both main presidential candidates are committed to pushing ahead: Nicolas Sarkozy says he wants a “mini-treaty” that will contain all the constitution’s main elements, while Ségolène Royal says that, if Britain has problems with the constitution, the rest of the EU should go ahead without it. Not that the UK is trying to back out: it seems to have agreed in principle to the Sarkozy “mini-treaty” proposal.
Am I forgetting anyone? Oh yes, there is one solitary voice of dissent: that of the ordinary citizen who, whenever invited to express an opinion on the Constitution, keeps rejecting it. Opinion has swung against the constitution over the past two years, both in France and the Netherlands and in those countries whose governments went ahead with ratification – most spectacularly in Germany, where two thirds of people now say they would vote “No”. Not that any of the governments seems to care.
Indeed, the distinction between governments and peoples has been explicitly acknowledged by the constitution’s chief author, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. “It was not France that said ‘no’ to the constitution,” he said the other day, “it was 55 per cent of French people.” France, in other words, is represented, not by its ill-informed population, but by its exquisitely tailored former President. “L’état, c’est Giscard.”
Relying on Giscard’s argument, the EU will continue to adopt as many of the Constitution’s proposals as it can under the existing structures. It has, after all, already enacted the document’s chief provisions: a European criminal justice system, a diplomatic corps (the “European External Action Service”) the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Some 85 per cent of the clauses can be pushed through this way. Then, at some stage in the next 18 months, there will be a perfunctory Inter-Governmental Conference to tie up the loose ends: the new voting weights, for example, and the end of the rotating presidency. There will be no disagreement in principle about these things, which the 25 – now, with Romania and Bulgaria, 27 – governments have accepted in principle all along. The national leaders will then tell their electorates that it would be absurd to hold referendums on such detailed and technical proposals. The result? We will end up with virtually the entire text of the constitution, but with no more referendums.