Friday, April 29, 2005

Sharing the fantasy (not)

Rather touchingly in Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Jacques Delors recalled how hurt he was by the famous Sun 1994 headline, "Up yours Delors".

He was speaking to Sarah Montague about the French EU referendum campaign, whence he told her that a French rejection would not derail the treaty. "If France is the only exception," he said, "the other countries will decide to go on". They would then "study the situation" and "at the end of the process", there could be second French referendum.

Dismissing the poll findings which have put the "no" campaign in the lead, he told Montague: "It's not the first time in European countries that the polls don't reflect the exact feeling of the citizens." He remained optimistic as the "yes" camp still had four weeks to explain the constitution.

Apparently contradicting Juncker, though, he denied there was a "Plan B", saying that it was not possible to renegotiate and a "core Europe" was "an idea which has no real support".

Delors's comments were seized on by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who followed him on the programme. He claimed that they disproved the claims of the supporters of the constitution that the UK would be ejected from the Union if it produced a "no" vote. If France won't be ejected, neither will we, he said.

Nevertheless, the French élites are really getting worked up if they are dragging in Delors to make their case, his intervention following another "voice from the past", that of former prime minister and failed presidency candidate Lionel Jospin. He is warning that a "no" vote "would punish France, punish Europe, but not punish the government in office."

Speaking on state-owned France 2 television, he added, "If we have a political problem in France, let's solve it in France and not hold Europe as a witness or hostage to the debate" on how our country is governed.

Meanwhile, the lower house of the Spanish parliament has ratified the constitution, with a vote of 311 in favour and 19 against, with no abstentions. A crowing prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, told parliamentarians before the vote that their actions would set an example for countries where the charter is experiencing "moments of uncertainty."

He would have found ready support from the three political representatives on the BBC Radio 4 "Any Questions" panel this evening, none other that David Steel, Chris Patten and Neil Kinnock, a totally impartial trio which were ideally qualified to give an opinion on what would happen if the French voted "no" to the constitution.

Obviously not listening to his own words, Patten launched into a tirade against referendums in general, declaring that they "undermined parliamentary democracy". That from a man who, through his support for the EU, has done his level best to support institutions which undermine parliamentary democracy.

He was joined by Kinnock, that other great democrat, who at least confirmed the Delors thesis that a rejection would do no lasting harm, saying that it "would not lead to a plague of locusts". His view was that, sooner or later, we'll have to come back and produce a better version [of the treaty]".

But, for sheer nerve, you cannot best his closing comment when the former commission declared, in ringing tones, that the constitution "changes not at all the way we are governed".

What all this confirms is that, in their own way, each the players is occupying a fantasy world. Interestingly though, it seems that they are not sharing the same fantasy.

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