Dan Hannan yesterday flags up an idea that was first floated by Chris Booker and has since been taken up by the Devil's Kitchen. That is that the Constitutional Crisis in Belgium may well have a significant impact upon the ability of the EU to get its Constitution.
As Dan puts it,
"the prolonged absence of a Belgian Prime Minister is beginning to cause concern around the EU. If the crisis is still unresolved by 13 December, there will be no one with the authority to sign the Lisbon Treaty"
The premise is that with only a caretaker Government, the Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt will not be constitutionally allowed to sign the Treaty in December if the Belgians have not by then sorted out their little local difficulty.
However following a correspondence with one of Belgium's leading Constitutional lawyers I must, sadly pour cold water on the idea. This is despite comments made in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, repeated on EU Observer.
His argument goes something like this,
"I have doubts that anything can be done at this stage. Formally, the prime Minister has the authority to sign any treaty. Signing is a matter for the Executive, not for the Belgian parliament".
"There is some misunderstanding as to the status of a caretaker government:
- as long as the new parliament is not assembled, there is a convention that they can do very few things.
- however, once the parliament is in session again, the government can do more.
I agree that according to tradition, the outgoing government should not sign the Treaty, but there is no legal sanction against doing so. Or rather; the only body who can sanction is Parliament (by not ratifying).
It is true that there are some divergences of opinion on this matter between constitutionalists. But I don't give an action for annulment of the signing (by the Administrative Court) a chance: they will say that the signature itself does not make the Treaty valid in the internal order, and that only the ratification can be attacked (namely before the Constitutional Court)".
There again there is the small factor of requiring the Flanders Parliament to ratify the Treaty. That looks to me like one very big stick in their armoury in their disagreements with the Belgian Federal State.