While several EU countries plan to put the proposed EU constitution before voters, Lithuania this week became the first country to ratify the document in parliament. It was a wise step, according to DW's Klaus Dahmann.
He voted on EU membership, his parliament ratified the constitution
Delivering an expectedly positive overture to the drawn-out process of ratifying the EU constitution, the Lithuanian parliament overwhelmingly approved the document on Thursday.
The vote itself is less significant than the fact that there was a broad consensus that no referendum was necessary. After all, 90 percent of Lithuanians had obviously expressed confidence in the bloc by voting for EU membership in May 2003, all political parties agreed.
Ardent supporters of grass-roots democracy might condemn that line of argument. They'd counter that EU membership and the EU's proposed new constitution are two completely separate issues and people could very well support membership and oppose the constitution at the same time.
Voting on the wrong thing
Still, no one needs prophetic abilities to realize that, at best, referendums on the constitution will be votes on EU policy as a whole rather than the document. In the worse case scenario, they'll become polls on voters' satisfaction with their respective national governments at the time.
Clearly, everyone can read the constitution. Large parts of the document address citizens directly, especially the second part, which focuses on basic rights.
But the largest section deals with quotas and percentages, with exceptions, tactical loopholes and "yes, but" formulations. All of this is necessary for a document based on political compromise, but it's also fairly incomprehensible for the average citizen.
That's why some will use the referendums as an opportunity to "show them up there" how this, that and the other thing could be handled much better. Since the only options are to say "yes" or "no," the temptation will be to do the latter.
EU leaders pose for a family picture after signing the EU Constitution in Rome on Oct. 29. Countries planning to hold referendums include Britain, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Ireland.
But most people won't even bother to carefully read the 350-page charter and instead let fantasy run wild on what they're voting on: High salaries for EU civil servants, the proposed Turkish EU membership or their national governments failed economic policy, as the case may be.
Populists will be flying high in the months leading up to the elections. But all of this doesn't have anything to do with well-meaning grass-roots democracy.
"Core Europe" is not desirable
One thing should definitely be clear: Failure of the constitution to pass in one or more countries would serve as a catalyst for an undesirable development -- the emergence of a mini-EU within the EU. Some politicians already dream about such a "core Europe" but don't dare to say so explicitly. It's also obvious that Lithuania will not suffer any future harm because of the ratification but instead has secured itself the No. 1 spot -- ahead of Germany and Italy, both of whom actually wanted to shine as the speediest ratifiers. That's why Lithuania has now become a bright model that's worth repeating.