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The Tattered Constitution

Nicole Scherschun (jb)May 30, 2005

The EU constitution stood as a milestone in European history. Still, such large undertakings can, of course, go askew. DW-World has compiled a list of such blips, both large and small.

One of many opponents of the EU constitution

What was the difference between a qualified and simple majority again? One thing is for sure: they are not the same thing. A qualified majority is one receiving more than 50 percent of the vote (sometimes two-thirds and often three-fourths of the vote.) A simple majority means that one side received more votes than the other. Period. It is a small but meaningful difference. Unfortunately, it is also one that Polish translators of the EU constitution overlooked in their haste.

Grave oversights

The EU constitution is studded with technical terms, unwieldy sentences and bureaucratese, not to mention that it is an epic 500 pages. In the end, the rush has not been worthwhile, producing rage and revolt: In Poland, ratification of the document has had to be postponed because of the mistakes in translation. The Polish parliamentary deputies complain that they have not been able to debate the constitutional rules, the ones changed from the original draft and seen as most important. And even though the referendum over the constitution was planned for the same day as the presidential election Oct. 9, now it has to be held three to four months later.

Frankreiche EU-Referendum Frau vor Plakaten mit Ja- und Nein Aufrufen
The French vote isn't the only problemImage: AP

For this reason, Polish enthusiasm for the EU is ebbing somewhat. The government had arranged it so well: Polish voters could go to the polls once and vote for a president and an EU constitution. And through this scheme, the government had hoped for high voter turnout, maybe even crossing the magical boundary of 50 percent perhaps.

Latvians look away

In Latvia, translators of the EU constitution made about 500 mistakes in the text, about 160 really grave ones. This is due to the extreme overload faced by Latvian translators in Brussels, the foreign ministry said. In no way would the translators falsify the contents of the document which will be presented to parliament for ratification. Instead, the mistakes occurred when the translators tried to abide by the EU schedule, said Artis Pabriks, foreign minister of Latvia.

It almost seems as if people thought that no one would read the constitution that carefully. That's not a completely outrageous assumption: Most people have not only never looked at it but also don't know that there is a constitution at all. The Lithuanian and Hungary parliaments were the first to ratify the constitution, at the end of 2004. At that time, one-third of EU residents had not heard of the document.

EU Verfassung Niederlande
What constitution?Image: AP

The least amount of information seems to be available in Cyprus: when asked about the EU constitution, 65 percent of those polled responded, "Excuse me?"

And the Germans? Well, according to surveys, one-third has no idea what the constitution is. As a result, the EU has prepared detailed information, available for free on the Internet, something most are passing up.

The government of the Czech Republic has gone on the offensive to prepare for the vote on the constitution in June 2006. Next month, they will begin a campaign to educate voters by distributing 100,000 copies of the document for free. But that's not making it thinner nor more exciting than the original.

Panic before the vote

And in some cases, one could try gaining support for the constitution in yet other ways, as in the Netherlands, where the number of opponents to the constitution is steadily increasing.

There, Dutch EU parliamentarian Jules Maaten from the liberal party, the VVD, has been appearing on TV spots promoting the constitution, along with pictures of the Holocaust, the war crimes in Bosnia and the terrorist attack in Madrid. Needless to say, the commercial didn't go over well.