One way or another, we shall end up with the European Constitution—or, at any rate, something very like it. This may seem an extraordinary thing to say. After all, the French and the Dutch rejected the constitution. Opinion polls in Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic show public opinion is against ratification. In Britain, almost no serious analyst believes that the referendum can be carried. Why, then, am I so confident that the constitution will be implemented? Because that is how the EU works. When Denmark voted against Maastricht, when Ireland voted against Nice—and, for that matter, when the markets voted against the Exchange Rate Mechanism—the EU’s response was to carry on regardless. There is no Plan B in Brussels; Plan A is simply resubmitted over and over again until it is accepted.
The same thing will happen with the constitution. Indeed, it is already happening. One of the most contentious provisions in the constitution is the creation of a European criminal code, complete with a European Public Prosecutor, a pan-European magistracy and the further harmonisation of justice and home affairs. Much of this agenda was launched at the end of last year by the 25 interior ministers before a single country had yet ratified the constitution that authorised it.
Similarly, even before the constitution had been signed, let alone ratified, judges at the European Court of Justice had indicated that they would treat the Charter of Fundamental Rights as a justiciable document. This may sound innocuous enough, but it will open huge new areas of national life to the rulings of the European Court, from family policy to employment law.
Last May, a bill was launched in the European Parliament establishing a European diplomatic corps (or “European External Action Service” as it is coyly called). While the constitution provides a legal basis for such a development, the existing Treaties do not. But Members of the European Parliament have come up with a radical argument to get around this problem. The fact of the signing of the constitution in Rome by the 25 Heads of Government, they say, imposes on the Member States a duty to implement it. In other words, never mind the referendums; never mind public opinion; we shall go ahead anyway.
Then again, this is how the EU traditionally operates. People speak of the “democratic deficit” as though it is a regrettable accident. It is not: it is an integral part of the project. The patriarchs of the EU, Monnet and Schuman, understood from the first that their scheme for the merging together of Europe’s states would never survive if it had to be periodically referred to the national electorates. So they carefully vested supreme power in the European Commission, a body which, being unelected, was insulated from public opinion. Again and again, the EU has simply extended its competence into a new area, and then, years afterwards, regularised that extension in a new treaty. Thus the voters are presented with a fait accompli.
The trouble is that this way of working has created in Brussels a distrust of the electoral process. I often hear, especially from German colleagues in the European Parliament, the word “populism” used to mean what I would call democracy: that is, the readiness of politicians to recognise the wishes of their constituents. To many colleagues, however, European integration is not only desirable, but inevitable. It therefore follows that public opposition is merely an obstacle to be overcome – a bump on the road to a fixed objective.
We literal-minded Anglo-Saxons take the more simplistic view that no means no. For us, the reference point is not Hegel, but Monty Python. “This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It has expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late parrot! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace!”
Alas, the Euro-elites have invested too much in this process to allow a little thing like democracy to stand in their way. One way or another, they will get their constitution. If formal ratification is impossible, they will simply use the existing treaty structure to implement the Constitution’s contents.
When there is a “No” vote in one of the member states, it never occurs to the Commission or the European Parliament to respect the verdict. Instead, they demand better information, more education, a clearer explanation of why integration is a good thing. I am reminded of Brecht’s lines:
Wäre es da
Nicht einfacher, die Regierung
Löste das Volk auf und
Wählte ein Anderes?
(Would it not be easier
if the government
abolished the people
and elected another one?)
This attitude is, of course, precisely why people keep voting “No” in the first place.