Even if the French vote down the European Union’s proposed constitution, which may well happen next month and would theoretically doom the proposal, its supporters in the EU have a plan to carry on with the ratification process.
The key to their “Plan B” is to insist that countries due to hold votes later this year – or even next year, like Britain – carry on regardless of the result in France until all 25 member states have been given a chance to ratify the treaty.
On the surface, there is no basis for holding further referendums if the French vote No. The draft European Union constitution must be ratified by all member states, and a French No should effectively kill the treaty.
However, the EU was not built by letting details like No votes sway its founding fathers from their mission. After the Maastricht Treaty was voted down in Denmark and Ireland, both countries were invited to vote again, and finally voted Yes.
“No means no” has no meaning to the EU. Instead it means keep plying the subject with drinks until the subject slurs yes or passes out. Either is taken as acquiescence and means that the EU can have its way and then proceed to its next target.
Faced with 21 consecutive opinion polls showing the No camp ahead in France, pro-constitution EU leaders have begun asserting that there is a moral, political and even a legal obligation to carry on voting – an argument aimed squarely at Britain.
Reversing his previous categorical assurances that a referendum would be held in Britain come what may, Tony Blair is now hinting at a change of course. He said on Monday that if France were to reject the constitutional treaty on May 29 there might be nothing for the British electorate to vote on.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, whose tiny nation holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said: “The French vote is important but I don’t believe it should stop the ratification process under way in other countries.”
A vote that should, in theory, derail the constitution is “important but” not enough to stop the process. Trust me, in the eyes of the EU supporters, no votes in all 25 countries would be a “hurdle but” nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
Senior eurocrats have started murmuring that Britain and other waverers are obliged to continue the ratification process.
Their argument is founded on an obscure declaration tacked on to the end of the draft constitution that says that if, by December 2006, four fifths of the 25 states have ratified the treaty but “one of more member states have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification”, then “the matter will be referred” to a summit of EU heads of state and government.
Ah yes, the little-known codicil that will allow them to place non-ratifying countries on double-secret probation.
FranÃ§oise le Bail, the chief spokesman of the commission, yesterday insisted that such a summit could only gauge the true depth of EU support for the constitution if voting continued, making that clause “the tangible element, if you will, that seems to suggest that the process of ratification should continue to the end”.
Her analysis is not shared by all EU governments. One EU diplomat said: “It’s obvious that if the French vote No there will be an immediate discussion between the governments. If President Chirac says the French won’t vote twice, then the idea that other countries are going to go on to ratify is laughable. For one thing, how exactly do you go about winning a Yes campaign in another country, if the French have made clear they are going to veto the constitution at the end?”
It is my opinion that this diplomat has not read the writing on the wall. This constitution will, one way or another, be ratified in its current or a very slightly modified form. The national referendums are only a formality, one especially easily overcome if the EU can get 20 yes votes by December 2006.
This is not exactly without precedent. The United States’ Articles of Confederation required approval by all states for amendment. However, the Constitution set is own lower barrier for acceptance, declaring the Articles moot and itself the supreme law of the land at the approval of only nine of the thirteen states. The EU’s proposed constitution has set itself up for a similar maneuver, though I don’t expect the reward to be anywhere near as great for following generations who will live under its law.