Monday, May 30, 2005

With one bound, they will be free

The morning after, it looks like the end of a Dick Tracy episode. The hero is bound and gagged, facing a certain, horribly violent death - and the credits start rolling. The next episode, you just know something will happen – however implausible – and, with one bound, our hero will be free.

So it is with the EU constitution. It may look as if it faces certain death but, as we indicated in our earlier post, the game is very far from over.

The reason it isn't over is because, when push comes to shove, there really isn't a "plan B". The European Union only has one policy and one objective – political integration. It does not know anything else and cannot do anything else, so it will continue with the only thing it knows how to do.

In this, the Daily Telegraph leader comes closest to divining the reality, declaring that: "Mere democracy won't stop the EU machine." The project was never meant to be democratic, it says.

From the first, the EU's founding fathers understood that it needed to be immune to public opinion. The genius of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman was to design a system in which supreme power was wielded by unelected officials, and in which the peoples were presented with a series of faits accomplis. When, in 1992, they got their first No vote in Denmark's referendum on Maastricht, our masters were too set in their ways to consider respecting the result, and so pushed on regardless. They will do the same thing today.
And, if you listen to the voices above the blather of mindless hacks and ill-informed commentators, the strategy of the "colleagues" is already clear. Sticking firmly to the script, Blair has responded with the same words uttered by his foreign secretary, saying it was "too early to decide whether or not Britain will hold a referendum on the EU constitution." What we need, he said, is "time for reflection".

It is too late to affect the result of the Netherlands vote, and that has already been discounted, but the action will then move to Brussels and the European Council on 16/17 June. There, you can predict with certainty the arguments that will be raised. It would be "unfair" to allow just a few countries to dictate the future of Europe – every country must have a chance to express its opinion on the constitution.

The view of Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, currently holding the EU presidency, will then prevail. "The process of ratification must continue in the other countries," he has said. The "colleagues" will therefore agree that, "in the interests of democracy", the process of ratification should continue, with a review of the situation once it is completed.

That buys time until late 2006, and might even get them through into 2007, when the French presidency election will be held. Interestingly, it gets Blair off the hook for the British EU presidency, as the issue is sidelined until the following year.

In the meantime, Denmark will become the new battlefield, and you will see the "colleagues" pull out all the stops in an attempt to stem the tide of noes. Perversely, they will look to the Eurosceptic Danes to save le projet.

Then it will be on to the British referendum. And already you can see the new line emerging. The very fact that France has rejected the constitution reinforces the idea that it is "good for Britain", with the secondary line that the French "no" gives Britain an opportunity to take the lead in Europe. With the full weight of the establishment behind that message, there is no guarantee that the country would not deliver a "yes".

In their dreams, the "colleagues" could then envisage resubmitting the question to the French, under a new president, perhaps with the addition of an "explanatory declaration" appended to the constitution, emphasising the "social values" of the treaty.

All that is for the future, but there is no question that the "colleagues" will not let their treasured project die - they cannot. All too soon, we will see the next episode and, with one bound, they will be free.

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