Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Of candour and humidity

Foreign Ministers are gathered today in Brussels for the final phase of the negotiations on the constitution, preparing for the make-or break (probably break) summit on Thursday and Friday which will decide whether the project lurches forward or drives into the sand.

The Tories were of course calling for the government to "show a bit of humidity" – I think that was what they said - and abandon plans to adopt the constitution, in the wake of the Euro-election results.

However, Jack Straw, on his way over to Brussels, immediately demonstrated that he didn't know the meaning of the word. He turned up in a BBC studio for World at One to tell the listener that the constitution was a jolly good thing really and that he and the prime minister – whoever he is – were going to secure a jolly good deal for Britain and Europe if they jolly well could.

What's more, they were jolly well going to win the referendum, just like Harold Wilson did in 1975 when he managed to shift hostile public opinion to support the Common Market. "When people shifted from heart to head and started thinking about the issue in detail... they voted Yes by a very substantial majority", he said.

As to his jolly good constitution, he reminded the listener that "People complain about lack of efficiency and transparency in the EU, they complain that national governments are not sufficiently in control over what happens, they also say national parliaments don’t have a big enough role." "All true", he declared, "and all things which this draft constitutional treaty is there to put right."

Funny thing is, none of us seem to remember anyone – people that is – ever complaining about the lack of efficiency in the EU, especially when by "efficiency" is meant the rate at which this dire organisation churns out new laws. In fact, the general preference seems to be for a little less efficiency or, if Mr Kilroy-Silk is to be believed – and I think he should – none at all.

Not quite so funny was Neil Kinnock, the other side of the Channel, urging Blair to launch a drive to win the support of the British people for the proposed constitution. "The battle is joined and we had better get stuck in," he said. "We will do it by candour, explanation, fact and destroying myths and legends," he said.

Kinnock could do well to start with Mr Straw and his claims that the constitution would address the problem that national governments were not sufficiently in control over what happened, and national parliaments didn't have a big enough role.

Perhaps he could explain how creating another thirty policy areas subject to QMV, so that individual member states can be over-ruled, actually gives national governments more control, or how allowing national parliaments to protest about the lack of "subsidiarity", only to be over-ruled by the Commission, actually gives them a bigger role.

Perhaps we'd better forget that bit about candour and go for the humidity – at least you can sort that out with air conditioning.

Talking of which - humidity that is - Jaques and Gerard had their little tete-a-tete in Aachen yesterday for their traditional pre-summit meeting, when they stitch up the agenda and make sure the Franco-German "motor of integration" keeps the project on track.

After their meet, the deadly duo cooed at the press, saying, "Our will is to succeed in adopting the constitution." They wish. There are 25 countries in the EU now, chuck, and the Poles - to say nothing of the polls - are not in a pretty mood.

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