Sunday, July 18, 2004

Ostriches at the ready

Edmund Stoiber, leader of Germany's Christian Social Union Party and failed challenger to Schröder, is hankering after a referendum on the constitution. If France and the UK are having one, he wants one too. But such is his detachment from reality that, apart from ignoring the fact that the German constitution prohibits referendums, Stoiber also wants all EU member states to vote on the constitution on the same day.

He is likely to get short-shrift from Schröder, who has already decided on parliamentary ratification and is looking to position Germany as the first country to approve the constitution, if possible by the end of the year. Schröder himself, however, is not entirely in the land of the living, as he he is expressing confidence that all 25 member states will ratify the treaty,

In the real world, all knowledgeable pundits accept that the risk of rejection is not a remote hypothesis, particular since the British public have been given a referendum. That much has been recognised by Giles Merritt, director of Forum Europe and secretary general of Friends of Europe, who – writing in the International Herald Tribune, is calling for a "plan B".

Predicting that "it now seems likely that the constitution will fail to win the unanimous ratification it needs", he asks, "What must Europe's leaders do to head off a potentially devastating crisis over the EU's latest brainchild?"

What particularly concerns Merrit is the results of a recent Eurobarometer opinion poll, "which exploded the comfortable notion of many Brussels officials that more and better information about the EU would improve its approval ratings". Only six percent said they felt they didn't know enough about the EU. The bottom line was that quite a few people thought they knew enough about the EU to dislike it.

According to Merrit, there are "several plan Bs" (shurely, plan B, plan C, plan D… etc.? – ed). He cites a "departing commissioner as saying ""It all rather depends on which countries vote no in a referendum. If it’s Denmark, Ireland or Portugal, then they'll probably be asked to think again. If it's the UK or France, then that's quite another matter."

However, that is all you get. Merrit does not actually suggest a "plan B", much less a "plan C". He simply opines that "a fallback plan is needed if the EU is not to present itself as the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand". He hopes that the Dutch will perhaps lay the ground for some sort of plan.

It begins to look very much as if the "colleagues" have no idea of what to do if the constitution ratification process goes belly up. There is, of course, the option of bending over and… unless, it seems, you are Schröder.  In that case you just pretend everything is going your way. What was that about ostriches?

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