Before the French and Dutch referendums, I predicted that, if our neighbours voted "No", the EU would ignore the result and implement the constitution as though nothing had happened. The Brussels elites have followed the script to the letter. José Manuel Durrão Barroso, Jacques Chirac, Barbara Windsor and Sid James present Carry on Regardless. Two weeks after the referendums, the European Parliament voted through dozens of Bills that cited the constitution as the source of their authority. One which happened to catch my eye was a report proposing that the British and French representatives on the UN Security Council be merged into a single EU seat. The judicial basis for such a development, said the report, was "the European Constitutional Treaty, which creates a legal personality for the Union and a European Minister for Foreign Affairs". No one was so indelicate as to point out that, without the constitution, the EU has no treaty-making powers. Instead, we carried on as though nothing had changed.
The man whom the constitution would have made Europe's Foreign Minister, Javier Solana, is comporting himself as if he were already in office. "What we have to do is continue", the silky Spaniard told MEPs. "The worst that could happen is if you, or the leaders or citizens of the European Union, enter into a psychological paralysis". You may think this preposterous; you may find Mr Solana risible. But it is he, not you, who is in a position to decide what happens next.
Almost to a man, Commissioners and MEPs have decreed that the process should continue. The EU is going ahead as though the French and Dutch electorates had voted "Yes", harmonising criminal justice, creating a European Public Prosecutor, establishing a diplomatic service, treating the Charter of Fundamental Rights as justiciable. The constitution is not being smuggled in through the back door; it is swaggering brazenly across the porch.
Forgotten, now, are the apocalyptic threats that "Yes" campaigners made before the votes. Then, they argued that rejecting the constitution would mean rejecting the entire process of European construction. A "No", they said, would undo fifty years of peaceful collaboration. Now, though, they seem reluctant to follow their own logic. If the "No" votes really were, as they claimed, a "No" to the EU, they ought surely to be repatriating powers to the national capitals – starting with those parts of the constitution that they had implemented in anticipation of the referendum results.
Instead, once the results came in, the Euro-sophists shifted their ground. Now they insist that the voters, in their ignorance, got the wrong end of the stick. Here, for example, is Jo Leinen, the chairman of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee: "The French were voting against President Chirac and the Raffarin administration, not against the European Constitution. France must have a second chance".
Most Euro-zealots see history in deterministic, almost Marxist terms. To them, the goal of a united Europe is not simply desirable but inevitable. It follows that "No" votes are simply a bump on the road towards a fixed objective. The idea that politicians should respond to their constituents' wishes, rather than the other way around, would strike them as unconscionably populist. The role of elected representatives, as they see it, is to make voters understand their true interests. As Hans-Gert Pöttering, the amiable leader of the largest group in the European Parliament put it: "It is regrettable that the French have not been convinced of the advantages and usefulness of the constitution... the ratification process must go on". In other words, the French and Dutch must be cured of their false consciousness; and, in the mean time, we should ignore them.
I do not make the parallel with Marxism lightly. Obviously the EU cannot be compared directly to the totalitarian states of the Iron Curtain: it does not take away our passports, or throw us into gulags. But it has in common with the old Soviet Bloc a belief that the end justifies the means - that the ruling ideology is too important to be be dependent upon election results. As in the Comecon countries, there is now a large apparat whose position depends on the maintenance of the status quo. The referendum results might seem to us to de-legitimise the project; but Brussels functionaries have never been especially interested in public opinion. To them, the goal of closer integration is self-legitimising. They will continue to pursue that project, whatever their peoples think, because, in truth, they are not programmed to act in any other way. (This also explains, by the way, why so many Eastern European apparatchiks are now passionate Euro-philes: with its 25-man politburo, its rubber-stamp parliament, its special passports and reserved shops for senior officials, its five-year plans, its black limousines, the Evropeiski Soyuz seems like a home from home.)
I worry that the jubilation that has followed the "No" votes is premature. "The whole system is breaking apart", people say. "It can't work". That is what we said about the USSR and, in the long run, we were right. But it wouldn't have been much fun to have been born in, say, 1910 and lived through the process of it not working. It is possible that the EU is, as it were, in 1989; but it may be only in 1956, with the first stirrings of popular revolt. There's a deal of ruin in a Union.