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Opinion: The EU Constitution is Dead

Bernd Riegert (sac)June 3, 2005

What happens now following the no votes to the EU constitution? Just push on as if nothing happened, like some EU leaders are demanding? Maybe some breathing space for the EU to take stock of itself would be better.

Who wants to support the future EU?Image: AP

If there were a stronger word for dead, it could be used following the dramatic clear "nee" of the Dutch on Wednesday.

The EU constitution is more than dead. It is more dead than it was when the French shouted their unmistakable "non" to the treaty. EU leaders' persistent pleading is not going to help, either.

The crisis management by current EU president, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission President Jose Barroso and European Parliament President Josep Borrell is shamefully meager. They have little more to offer than a "keep it up!" on the ratification -- even though it was foreseeable that two of the EU's founding nations would reject the treaty.

Leaders have three options

EU leaders should have come together for an immediate summit already on Monday, the day after the French "non."

Symbolbild: Referendum zur EU-Verfassung in Frankreich
A majority in France chose the "non" over the "oui"Image: dpa

Instead, the regular EU summit in Brussels in mid-June will be converted into a crisis summit. Actually, the equally important EU budget was also supposed to be on the agenda. But that won't happen now.

The European heads of state have three options. They can declare the constitution project terminated. They can decide which parts of the constitution -- for example a simplified voting procedure -- can be adopted in another manner with separate treaties. Or they can hold on to the ratification process and decide at the end of 2006 how to proceed.

Put treaty on the back burner

The third possibility, which is the official line at the moment, is actually not an option. If it were, the constitution text would have to be changed or at least France and the Netherlands given another chance to vote on the unchanged text. Both appear politically impossible.

The second possibility -- to implement certain parts -- would require a consensus by the 25 member states in new treaty negotiations, which would be hard to achieve in the current situation.

It would be logically and politically rational to put the constitution project on the back burner for several years -- as well-meant as it was -- and bury the current draft.

Leaders should stop and think

The voters in France and the Netherlands not only sank the treaty, they also at the same time sharply criticized a whole range of European achievements.

Auch die Niederlande lehnen EU-Verfassung ab
The Netherlands also responded with a big "nee" in their referendumImage: dpa

The French slated the single market and economic policies. The Dutch took aim at the common currency euro, centralism and immigration policies.

This has to make European leaders stop and think. Did they move too quickly in the past 15 years, since the fall of the Wall? Did they ask too much of their citizens?

Why wasn't it possible to make it clear to Europeans that there was no way around the EU's eastward expansion?

A new Europe requires a new architecture

The EU was built with its back to the Berlin Wall. When the Wall fell, the house had to be rebuilt to stabilize it. That's how Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker vividly explained it.

He's right. What's necessary now is some breathing room. EU leaders have to show that they aren't disregarding the will of their voters, but, on the other hand, are not going to fall into complete paralysis.

European integration has to continue, but in smaller steps. The individual countries of the world cannot survive on their own, neither politically nor economically.

It's also time for an honest stocktaking of what is really necessary in the EU and where there is excessive integration or even paternalism.

Europe doesn't have to regulate everything, but rather form a framework. This is a Hercules task, which is more difficult to solve than making a constitution. The treaty, by the way, only came about in a second attempt a year ago -- also at a so-called crisis summit.