The American Constitution is 15 pages long and every American can
recite parts of it. The European Constitution is 511 pages long;
unread, unreadable and rejected by the voters of France and Holland.
This should have been the end of the European Constitution but that is
not how things work in the EU. Voters are listened to when they vote
yes; ignored when they vote no.
The forthcoming European summit on 21 June will attempt to resuscitate
the Constitution. Indeed feverish negotiations have been taking place
for months under the German presidency.
There are four rules for these discussions:
1. Don’t call it a Constitution
2. Keep as much of the substance as possible
3. Keep the talks private
4. Don’t allow any more national referendums
Chancellor Merkel circulated a letter to other member states suggesting that the substance of the Constitution be preserved, ‘with the necessary presentational changes’. Also, ‘to use different terminology without changing the legal substance.’
When challenged on this in the House of Commons, Margaret Beckett said that the government’s reply would not be published and no statement would be made to the House on the government’s intentions.
That makes a nonsense of everything the government has said about the need for openness and transparency and more public involvement with the EU.
These manoeuvrings by the government also contradict what Tony Blair said in April 2004: ‘What you cannot do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and bring it back with a few amendments and say, “have another go”. You cannot do that’.
Practically everything in the European Constitution is about transferring more decisions and more power from member states to the EU. The creation of a permanent EU president and foreign minister in Brussels is a clear centralisation of power. The endowment of a single EU legal personality means the end of the ‘pillared structure’ of the EU whereby foreign affairs and criminal justice are treated as matters between governments. Incorporating the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will end for ever the legislative independence of the House of Commons (unlike the European Convention of Human Rights from which we can derogate). The Constitution also removes the national veto in 42 new areas, and lowers the threshold for majority votes.
The June summit will decide which bits to incorporate into an early treaty change, and which bits to leave for a subsequent one. An Intergovernmental Conference this autumn will agree the actual legal changes, followed by ratification. National electorates will not be asked to decide this time, except perhaps in Denmark and Ireland where national constitutions require it.
The Conservative Party has promised that any further transfer of powers to the EU will require a referendum here. Since any treaty coming out of the present negotiations is bound to include such further transfers, we are therefore committed to a referendum. If Britain is to remain a self governing state we need David Cameron in No 10, and the sooner the better.