It's full steam ahead for EU constitution, even after 'No' votes
"EU is carrying on as though the constitution were
already in force"
July 17 2005
You may have got the impression that the European constitution was dead - that the French had felled it, and the Dutch had pounded a stake through its heart. If so, think again. The constitution is being implemented, clause by clause, as if the No votes had not happened.
While British ministers chunter on about the document being "in deep freeze", other countries are plunging ahead with ratification. Since the No votes, three nations - Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg - have gone on to approve the text. All right, these may not be the three mightiest powers in Europe, but their endorsement means that 13 of 25 members have now said Yes.
Eurocrats see this number as enormously significant. "It is a strong signal that a majority of the member states thinks that the constitution correlates to their expectations," said the Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, on hearing that Luxembourg had ratified. "The constitution is not dead," added the Grand Duchy's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker. The European Parliament has duly set up a committee to look at how to proceed with implementation.
Formal ratification by all 25 states is regarded in Brussels as a technicality. To all intents and purposes, the EU is carrying on as though the constitution were already in force. Most of the institutions that it would have authorised are either up and running already, or in the process of being established. My researches have produced the following non-exhaustive list:
• The European Space Programme
• The EU criminal code
• The European Defence Agency
• The common asylum policy
• The mutual defence clause, which replicates Nato's Article Five
• The External Border Agency
• The Fundamental Rights Agency (née Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia)
• Autonomous politico-military command structures
• The European External Action Service (that is, the EU diplomatic corps)
• The EU prosecuting magistracy
• The Union Foreign Minister - that silky socialist, Javier Solana
• The Charter of Fundamental Rights
Whenever a chunk of the constitution comes before my committee in the European Parliament for approval, I ask: "Where in the existing treaties does it say that we can do this?"
"Where does it say we can't?" reply my federalist colleagues, giggling at their own cleverness like Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows. Pressed for a proper answer, they point to a flimsy cats-cradle of summit communiqués, Council resolutions and commission press releases. The more honest of them go on to explain that this is how the EU has always operated: first it extends its jurisdiction into a new area and then, often years later, it authorises its power-grab in a retrospective treaty.
The 25 member governments, they argue, have endorsed the constitution; so has the European Parliament and so, as of last Sunday, have most national parliaments. It is clear where Europe wants to go, Hannan. So will you please stop being so literal-minded? I carry on feebly with my protest: how can they wish away the referendum results? Surely it counts for something that people have voted No.
"They weren't really voting against the constitution," I am told. "They were voting against Chirac. Or against Turkey. Or possibly against Anglo-Saxon liberalism". Against anything, apparently, except the proposition actually on the ballot paper.
Then again, the EU has never been especially interested in public opinion. The ruling ideology - peace in Europe through political integration - is thought to be too important to be left to the ballot box. If a plebiscite elicits the wrong response from the plebs, they must be suffering from what Marxists used to call "false consciousness". They misunderstand their true interests. They need better information, more education. And, in the meantime, the project goes on.
It is in this context that we should understand Mr Juncker's considered view - cheered to the echo by MEPs - that "the French and Dutch did not really vote 'No to the European Constitution". We may regard such comments as an entertaining hallucination. We may view the whole Carry On film in Brussels as hilarious.
But, when the laughing stops, the constitution will be in place.