Thursday, April 07, 2005

Panics, defiance and laughs

One of the reasons, it seems, why the Dutch government is planning to abandon its own EU referendum (news brought to us first by England Expects) is that Dutch voters are being heavily influenced by events in the French referendum.

The government fears that if the French vote "no", the chances are that their increasingly disillusioned electorate will follow suit in their referendum two days later, on 1 June, leaving them with a situation that is hard to reverse.

The immediate analysis, that the Dutch government was about to treat a French vote as the end of the constitution might, therefore, be over-optimistic. Rather, the political élites are not prepared to accept that a French "non" will be the last word. It would, therefore, be much easier to deal with the French situation, if it arose, before turning to the Dutch electorate to ask for their verdict.

In an attempt to turn the tide, the government has launched a campaign to promote the constitution, with full-page advertisements in the leading Dutch dailies urging voters to participate in the referendum and learn more about the treaty from a free "constitution newspaper" to be published next week. One hopes that this paper is better informed than the fragrant Margot.

Meanwhile, Italy has become what AFP describes as "the first major power" to ratify the constitution. Whether Spain is that happy to be thus relegated remains to be seen but, whereas Spain at least went through the motions of consulting its peoples, no such luxury was afforded to the Italians.

The constitution was submitted only to the parliament, and approved by parliament's lower Chamber of Deputies in January, and now to the Senate, where it was passed by 217 votes to 16.

That brings to four the countries which have completed the ratification process, the other three being Lithuania, Hungary and Slovenia. Technically, Spain has not yet approved the treaty as the referendum decision on 20 February must still be rubber-stamped by parliament – on which grounds perhaps AFP can be forgiven.

The next country in line is Germany, with Herr Schröder having brought forward the ratification schedule to 12 May, when the constitution will appear before the Bundestag, with the Bundesrat following a few weeks later, all timed to give the French government a boost.

Unlike German politicos, Czech president Vaclav Klaus is demanding a referendum in his country, describing the constitution as "a revolutionary document which will change everyone's lives". Prime minister Stanislav Gross is agreeable, scheduling a poll to coincide with a general election in June 2006. That possibly makes the Czech Republic the last to hold a referendum.

Klaus has launched a book critical of the constitution and declared at the launch that "People must decide freely, even if some will order them to shut up." "We are free citizens and we should not be afraid or feel any pressure how to vote. We should not agonise over it if the Czech Republic became the only country not to support the constitution," he says.

But if the Czechs get the last vote, it may be France's Le Pen who gets the last laugh. In an exclusive interview for Newsweek, he conveys his immense amusement at L’escroc’s discomfiture

Asked about Chirac's involvement in the campaign, Le Pen notes that the president is not respected. "I think that if he declares himself openly and firmly in favor of the constitution, it will be what is called in bullfighting 'the strike of descabello' - when the bull is in agony and the matador strikes its nape, killing it instantly," he says. "So, I'm waiting for Jacques Chirac to finish off a faltering 'yes' vote by openly supporting it," he adds.

"What happens if the 'no' wins, then, for Chirac?" he is asked. "Ah, I don't know!", Le Pen responds, adding, with a laugh, "That's the great uncertainty of the sport. Maybe he'll put a bullet in his head." To Le Pen, "voting for the constitution is high treason." I kind of like this man.

And he has the perfect answer to the claim that a "no" vote will lead to isolation: "That's classical reasoning", he argues:

When I was running for office in Nice, my adversaries said that if I were elected the sea would recede, the palm trees would die, the tourists would leave and everybody would fall down sick. And so if the "no" wins, well, the constitution is rejected, and we'll have to accept the consequences. They have to stop lying to the French people... They go through all of this parliamentary theatre to make the French believe that the laws made in Brussels are then submitted to elected French officials who can modify them. No, we can only approve them. That's all... They want us to acquiesce to suicide. Well, no - we don't want to die. They will have to take notice and deal with it. And I think it might provoke new elections - presidential, legislative and others.
You can't really add to that. Over to you Margot - bet you can't either.

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