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Europe

"Europe has to be More Modest"

Elmar Brok, conservative European MEP and member of the convention which drew up the EU charter told DW-TV that it should have been approved before expansion and warned the EU had to take note of its citizens' concerns.

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The EU is caught in a cul-de-sac over its new constitution

DW: Mr Brok, you are almost part of the political landscape in both Brussels and Europe - is the European Union going through its biggest ever crisis after the two "No" in the referendums in France and the Netherlands?

Elmar Brok

Elmar Brok

Elmar Brok: No, technically speaking, it's not the biggest crisis. There have been "Nos" before - from Denmark or Ireland over the Maastricht and Nice Treaties, for example. But the constitution is especially significant and of course the French "No" in particular carries a lot of weight. If you look at the type of discussions which are now going on, you start to worry that we're walking on quicksand, and there's nothing you can do about it.

But you get the impression it's not just hyperbole - after this double "No," Europe seems almost paralyzed.

We have to recognize that the constitution was already too late. It should have happened before the European Union took in the ten new members last year. The 25-strong EU won't work with the current body of legislation, because the decision-making processes are so complicated and so difficult.

Everyone said that, if one country rejected the constitution, then it wouldn't happen at all, so isn't it already dead as a dodo?

No, not if we handle it properly. In the draft constitution, it says 20 states have to sign it by October 2006, two years after it was originally put forward: if not, then the European Council has to find other ways ahead. We'll have to see whether any country is going to pull out, or whether there'll have to be a new dialogue with any of them. But I believe we can only do that if we have a change both in policy and in atmosphere - otherwise the French people won't be

willing to follow us then either.

Nein, Ja, Nein

A woman walks past "Yes" and "No" campaign posters for France's referendum on the European Union constitution in May, 2005.

You're saying, then, that the double "No" means that we need a different policy change in Europe?

We have to take this seriously because the citizens weren't against the constitution per se. The constitution makes everything more transparent - you won't be able to make decisions behind closed doors anymore - and citizens' rights, democracy and the authority of the national

parliaments vis-à-vis the EU will all be strengthened. If we go back to the Nice Treaty again, then the distance between the EU and its citizens will grow even more. We have to have dialogue - but we don't have to decide everything. We don't have to regulate everything in Europe, and especially not in a way that contradicts the principles of competitiveness. And we also have to make it clear that Europe has borders, because people are feeling overwhelmed.

European citizens in France and the Netherlands said "No," but the first thing we hear from Brussels is "we'll keep on," so, we'll keep on ratifying: is that really the right response to the "Non and "Née?"

Well, I think it's right that the process of ratification should continue and that the other peoples should be consulted in accordance with their own constitutions. But the process will only be successful if the consolidation phase I have described really does happen and the people feel that we politicians have received and understood this message.

Now, let's assume that perhaps not just five but seven countries say no: would that bury the constitution?

Then it really will be as dead as a dodo. And I fear the European Union will then be in a real crisis situation - because of the decision-making apparatus and because we will, in the long run, still be so detached that there will be less and less support for the European ideal.

Could you imagine renegotiating the constitution treaty piecemeal to meet some countries halfway?

It has to be dealt with the same way in each country. We've now got 11 countries which have ratified it. We'd have to start from scratch again.

Isn't that a Pandora's Box?

EU-Referndum Niederlande: Freude bei den Gegnern der EU-Verfassung

Socialist Party supporters celebrate in Amsterdam, Netherlands, after the announcement of preliminary results of the referendum on the proposed European Union constitution. Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected the treaty.

It really is a Pandora's Box: but we've got a breakdown of the vote which shows how mixed the messages from France were. Le Pen and the far right sent a completely different message to the left wing, who were talking about a great social Europe. That, in turn, put the British and Scandinavians off. We have to emphasize that, in a federation of 25 countries, not everyone will be able to specify exactly what he wants to have.

Europe is in crisis and one shouldn't just ask what to do but who should actually do it? It's a very unusual situation: the French president amongst the ashes his presidency; the German Chancellor -- the other half of the Franco-German engine -- weakened by new elections; Tony Blair re-elected but also probably on the way; Berlusconi in difficulties; things in Poland unclear. Who exactly is going to pull the European carriage out of the ditch?

Well, firstly, having managed to make such a mess, these gentlemen now have a chance to mount a rescue attempt as their swan-song: for example, they could quickly agree on financial prospects for the next seven years and thereby demonstrate their competence. Secondly,: the leadership of Europe is up for grabs and it should be the job of the European Commission to take care of that as Jaques Delors once did. The Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso needs to get on with it.

Is he strong enough?

He knows exactly what's at stake. I have the impression that he only needs the will - and to see - that he has a central role to play.

For perhaps the first time in the last ten years, you cannot ignore the real scepticism about Europe right across the political spectrum. Various things are behind it: fear of globalization, fear of the Franco-German Directorate. Where does this Euroscepticism come from? Is the Brussels Dreamboat, for example, a bit too far above people's heads?

Yes, on the one hand, you have to realize that this is a scepticism about politics as a whole, because at least half the motivation for the "No" in both countries had its roots in domestic politics. The Belgian government only has the support of 19 percent of the voters, and Raffarin and Chirac's popularity is stellar, to put it ironically.

Symbolbild EU-Sterne vor dunklen Wolken

Dark clouds hover over the EU

But on the other hand, we have to admit that we didn't explain that EU expansion had political and economic advantages. People believe more and more outsiders are coming in while there's already 10- 12 percent unemployment and they think they are going to take their jobs - and at the same time, they see that in the context of the negotiations with Turkey. All this has had disastrous psychological consequences, especially when politicians did not set out to win people over.

I mean, the politicians should have known this: they always say, Europe is too expensive and the Commission did this or that without asking us, although they all agreed to it. If your policies on Europe are always going to follow the same pattern where, in the first sentence, you say "I'm in favor of Europe" and then you come up with three pages blaming your failures on the EU, well, then there's the problem. I don't think the German government's policies are much different to those of other countries: "when the sun shines, it was Berlin, when it rains, it was Brussels."

Does expansion have to stop?

I think so.

In two weeks, 25 heads of state and government will meet for what could be a crisis summit. From an MEP's perspective, what signal should it send Europe's citizens?

It would be great if they could manage to sort out the future finances. It would give a boost by demonstrating competence. Also, they have to say to the people: "We have got your message. We have to do some things differently." And if they really manage to do that, in the next 12 months we will be able to approach the people with the continuing process of ratification, because they will say that the constitution is O.K. and that the leaders have learnt

how to deal with such a constitution properly.

Europe should be more modest?

Yes, it has to be more modest: we should have more confidence in the people. And we have to recognize one thing in particular: in a democracy, objective reality isn't reality, it's what people see as reality. And if we politicians can't accept that, then we've been trying to sell a

pig in a poke.

The interview was conducted by Alexander Kudascheff

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