Wednesday, June 16, 2004

That’s enough Europe - ed

By common accord, the two main parties yesterday abruptly switched their emphasis to domestic issues – both "coincidentally" choosing to major on choice in "schools 'n' hospitals". The BBC obligingly rolled over and followed their lead. "Europe" was definitely off the agenda and the politicos could breathe a sign of relief.

Not Lib-Dem MEP leader Graham Watson though: he was complaining to the news agency EurActiv that Euroscepticism was gaining ground "because of our national elites failure to explain how the EU works and why it is important". He has a sort of a point – as evidenced by yesterday's carrying-on. The only thing consistent about our national leaders is the determination with which they avoid the subject.

Meanwhile, something eerie is happening on the constitutional front. Spurred on by the prospect of failure at the summit, and stunned by the wave of apathy and voter rebellion throughout the member states, a realisation is dawning amongst the national leaders that if the summit on Thursday and Friday does not succeed, the constitution is probably dead and buried. There will never be another chance – at least, not in the foreseeable future.

Behind the scenes, therefore, the Irish presidency is filleting the constitutional text – chucking contentious issues off the sledge in order to neutralise opposition. And, on the key issue of voting rights, a glorious fudge is in the making whereby, whatever the percentages agreed, there will also be an "emergency brake" which will allow member states to block – or delay - a proposal if their "vital national interests" are affected.

This is a variation of the "Luxembourg Compromise" agreed with de Gaulle in January 1966, devised in order to resolve the "empty chair crisis", where the French were blocking Community business. The compromise had no legal force, but served as a fig-leaf to assuage national pride and was quietly forgotten after a passage of time.

Thus, what we are going to see over the next few days is some pre-summit posturing, the like of which has already started with Blair announcing that he will negotiate "constructively" while sticking to his "red lines", accompanied by some "tough talking" to make it look good in front of the television cameras.

Come the Friday, each of the leaders of the member states will then come beaming out of the conference room and make bee-lines for their press rooms, proclaiming that they have succeeded in doing a deal that protects their national interests. The fabled "consensus" will have been achieved.

In their wake, they will leave a partly-emasculated version of the constitution, the consensus view actually being that it is better to have something, and thus avert the ignominy of failure, rather than have nothing at all.

As to ratification, that is another problem for another day. But the elites have already convinced themselves that the reason for public antipathy is simply because we don't understand what "Europe" is doing for us. Wrapped in their own little delusional world, they believe that all they have to do, pace Watson, is go out and "make the case for Europe" and "educate the voters".

Their only problem is that – as pointed out in a previous Blog – many of the voters are better educated than them. Their guff is going to fall on stony ground. But that, as they say, is for another day.

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