By Klaus Klipp and Pascal Goergen (*)
The European Council, which met on December 14-15, 2006, did not bring along the Constitution in its basket full of goodies for the European Union… One of us had the pleasure of paying a call on Santa at home in Lappland earlier this month, and the other bumped into him while browsing at the Strasbourg Christmas Market, and guess what: he told us he wasn’t going to bring it down the Union’s chimney either! So, will Europe be left without a Constitutional Treaty? Has it definitely been killed off, as some have suggested? Do we just have to accept this fait accompli? The answer to this question is clearly: NO!, according to our authors. They believe that pragmatism, good sense and efficiency have to win the day.
The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was adopted by all the Member States during the European Council meeting held on June 17-18, 2004, and signed in Rome on October 29, 2004. After what can be considered as the largest brainstorming session of all time (the Convention), the 25 Member States committed themselves legally by their signature to carry out the ratification of this treaty, according to the legal proceedings in their home countries (parliamentary approval, referendum, or both). We would like to stress the fact that the Constitution must be ratified by every single member state (25 at present, very soon 27). Unanimity is required, so a single ‘no’ would be able to block the system and prevent the treaty from coming into force. To this day, 18 countries have started the proceedings for ratification: 16 approved the Constitution (DE, AT, BE, CY, ES, EE, FI, GR, IT, LV, LT, MLT, SL, SK), and 2 rejected it (FR, NL). After the two negative referenda, the Council decided upon a ‘reflection period’ on June 16-17, 2005 and 7 countries subsequently suspended all proceedings for ratification (DK, PL, PT, IE, SE, CZ, UK). Among these, only the Czech Republic seems willing to take a decision on the treaty in the coming months.
We need to acknowledge the fact that, to this day, more than 50% of the Member States (exactly 16 out of 25) have ratified the treaty, and that they represent more than 60% of the EU’s total population. When Bulgaria and Romania join the EU on January 1, 2007, their ratification of the Constitutional treaty will enter into force at once, so we shall have 18 states out of 27. So why should we get rid of this text while there are still 7 states that, having signed the treaty, are legally bound to carry out the proceedings for ratification? Isn’t it appalling that governments of some of the world’s largest democracies have not respected their signature of the Treaty and by consequence their commitments? By posing the question, we are giving away the answer…
One should be aware of the fact that Declaration n°30, annexed to the European Constitution, makes the following provision: if, after a 2-year period beginning on the date of the signature of the treaty (i.e. November 2006), 4/5 of the Member States have ratified the treaty and that one or more Member States has encountered some problems in the process, the European Council will address the issue. It could be envisaged that, on the one hand, the Netherlands could start the proceedings for ratification via the constitutional procedure, and not by a consultative referendum, such as the one held on June 1, 2005. On the other hand, nothing would prevent the new French government from trying to explain to its citizens the very essence of Europe: Peace, for more than 60 years! And that’s not the only asset Europe can boast about: we can list, among many others, security norms for toys and environmental norms, structural funds for economic and social cohesion, Airbus or Ariane’s success stories…
But let’s get back to the proposed version of the Constitution: it is nothing more than the combination of the treaties in force since 1952. It is a simplified version of these texts (‘still a strenuous task to read it through, will you say, but… did you really read all the previous treaties?’), and above all a unique legal instrument that will allow Europe to work with 25 or more members. We would like to remind our French and Dutch friends that this text, although not flawless (well, it is a compromise between 27 Member States), has nothing to do with the Bolkestein Directive, the accession of Turkey, nor of course with the way internal affairs are led in each country. On the contrary, this new treaty will ease the decision-making process of the Union thanks to new institutional measures. It will allow the Union to have a minister for foreign affairs, who will be the voice of Europe and speak out for her. It will allow under certain conditions but contrary to what is currently in the founding texts a Member State to secede from the Union. This text will, above all, allow if Member States wish to a more social Europe, as decisions will not have to be taken unanimously anymore: a majority vote will be enough, so long as it represents at least 15 Member States and the representation of 62% of the Union’s total population. Finally it allows citizens to initiate community legislation via a petition addressed to the Commission by a minimum of one million of them.
Fortunately, all that has been done was not in vain. A spark of hope lies in the will of the main political groups in the European Parliament to see the proceedings for ratification brought to fruition. We would like to quote the speech that the President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell Fontelles, made in front of the European Council on December 14, 2006 in Brussels: ‘We must avoid re-opening the debate on institutional values or reforms, since we could continue discussing such matters indefinitely and still not reach a broader consensus than the one we have at present… Anyway, MINI or MAXI Constitution or Treaty, what matters is the operational content and not the name of the instrument we require‘. In order to work efficiently, the European Union needs to equip itself with the right tools: only the Constitution offers the Union the possibility to react effectively, to realize its objectives and to finally be able to tackle the important questions, such as the problems relating to energy, environment and foreign policy.
The key to this lies with both the Parliament’s pugnacity and the will of the German Presidency and its successors to break the current deadlock. German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented her ‘plan’, aimed at enabling the German Presidency to hand in a report at the end of its mandate (June 2007). This would set out a series of recommendations and an agenda that the Portuguese Presidency will have to implement before the end of 2007, topping it off with a small Intergovernmental Conference, so that the effective ratification of the new text of the Constitution (christened ‘Treaty of Lisbon’?) can take place in 2008 and enter into force in 2009.
Better communication on Europe, closer ties between the Union and its citizens, and better information about the direct benefits achieved through European projects are the ingredients necessary to succeed in this new élan. In this context, we would like to stress the very important role that local and regional authorities cities and regions play in achieving the objectives set by the European Union, as long as the Member States are really willing.
(*) Klaus Klipp, Secretary General, Assembly of European Regions (AER) (www.aer.eu)
Pascal Goergen, Philosophy Doctor in Political Sciences (Louvain Catholic University) and author of « Lobbying in Brussels » (www.goergen.be)
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