Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Forget the gloating…

That is the message from Peter Ridell today in his analysis piece in The Times as the news section reports: "Europe turmoil as treaty collapses", to an extent confirming yesterday’s Press Association report, claiming that France (i.e., Chirac) has "lost its fight to save the ill-fated constitutional treaty."

The fallout it seems, is set to be serious. Blair and Chirac are due to meet in Paris today, but are at loggerheads, with the prime minister accusing the French president of living in the past. Chirac, on the other hand, is refusing to hold a joint press conference and Blair is retaliating by arranging his own at the British Embassy in the French capital.

Blair's insistence on using the British presidency to reopen the CAP funding issue has, it appears, seriously rattled Chirac but the proximate cause of the acrimony seems to be a British victory in getting the constitution "kicked into the longest possible grass". Foreign ministers, we are now told, did come to a decision yesterday, or a "non-decision", abandoning plans to complete ratification of the constitution by the end of 2006. They have decided to leave it to individual countries to decide whether to hold their referendums.

The effect of this seems already evident, according to a BBC report, retailing that Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moeller has suggested that his country's referendum may be called off. Ireland, Poland and Portugal have, however, said they will stick to their plans, intensifying the confusion.

Ridell, in his peice, cites Mandelson who, at a Fabian Socity talk last night, made "a strong case for pressing ahead with painful economic reforms" and argues for the government to make a "positive, and consistent, case for reform, for Europe's sake and ours".

All this, though, is the same woolly rhetoric that has pervaded the EU debate for decades, and readers would be better informed by the superbly crafted article in The Business last Sunday, entitled: "Why the EU will never be reformed". They might then wish to echo the sentiment expressed by The Mail on Sunday, when the paper observed that: "It is tempting to wonder if there is any point in Britain belonging to this organisation any longer."

As for the gloating, there is none. If the European Council is to end not with a bang but a whimper, leaving the consitution "on the table" but going nowhere, this will be the worst of all possible worlds. The British will not get their referendum, nothing will have been resolved, yet all the indications are that the integration will go rolling on as before.

One is haunted by the first French rejection of a European constitution in 1954 when, in the aftermath, quite deliberately, the "project" went underground. According to Jean Monnet's biogropher, François Duchêne:

Nobody after the first two years of Monnet's presidency at the High Authority would again talk of it or its equivalents as a "European government"… Awareness that the French would have to be coaxed into further progress introduced caution into the European vocabulary. The word federal was reserved as the political equivalent of Latin for the rare religious occasion. Even supranational… tended to be used only when another fig-leaf could not be found. The idea of a Europe in some sense above the nations was no longer stated in the open.
After the frenetic debate in the French and Dutch referendums, we are already hearing the siren voices telling the colleagues to "cool it". Yesterday, there was Helmut Schmidt cautioning to take it "slow and steady" and today, in The Financial Times Professor Andrew Moravcsik advises that "it is time to shelve ideological polemics" and to return to "quiet incremental reform".

In the UK, the Conservative Party is all too keen to "bury" any talk of the EU, the government is always reluctant to acknowledge the "elephant in the room" and the media is, at best, inadequate, when it comes to dealing with the subject. Thus, history looks set to repeat itself, with the project disappearing from sight, leaving the Eurosceptics back in the wilderness.

Likely, that will not happen, as too many people are alert to the ways of the "colleagues", and the EU is too pervasive in our lives for it to do a convincing diappearing act. But life is going to be tougher and it is certainly going to be harder bringing this ghastly mess to a satisfactory resolution.

However, after all that, we may still be in with a chance. Chirac is also known as "the comeback kid". Either way, Mr Ridell, you need not worry. We certainly will not be gloating... yet.

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