Austrians have other ideas

By Geoffrey Van OrdenIN case you thought the European Constitution had been put out of its misery once and for all, Mr Wolfgang Schuessel has other ideas.

By Geoffrey Van Orden

IN case you thought the European Constitution had been put out of its misery once and for all, Mr Wolfgang Schuessel has other ideas. He is the Austrian Chancellor and, on January 1, took over the reins of EU power from Mr Blair. Austria has the EU Presidency for the first half of 2006 and is being encouraged by eurocrats to breathe life into the Constitution, however "hard and difficult" this might be.

Europe's leaders must listen to the people. Six months ago, in France and the Netherlands, they overwhelmingly rejected the Constitution. If the British people had been given this chance, few doubt what the scale of their 'No' would have been.

So what is going on? Well, politically, you should never underestimate the determination of those politicians and officials committed to driving the EU Project forward, regardless of the views of their citizens. They have returned from their Christmas holidays with fresh determination. Mrs Merkel, the new German Chancellor, believes that attaching a declaration on "the social dimension of Europe" to the failed Constitution will be enough to save it. Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior Minister and Presidential hopeful, wants to recook the Constitution to deliver the political Europe that he is committed to. MEPs will debate the way ahead next week. Bear in mind that most of them think the Constitution is a good idea. British Conservatives profoundly disagree.

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The Constitution included a protocol, which simply put, stated that on 1 November 2006, if at least 20 out of the 25 countries have ratified - the tally so far is 13 - then the Council (where the Governments sit) should decide on the next step.

The federalists are convinced that a bit more effort - plus more EU funds - devoted to persuading public opinion is all that is necessary. They believe that the French and Dutch 'No' votes were just a temporary aberration - a mere "expression of dissent at the present state of the Union", according to one LibDem MEP. The results "did not call into question citizens' attachment to the construction of Europe". Nonsense!

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It would be foolish to deny that there is a wealth of talent and experience in the EU institutions (I have 16 former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers among the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for example). What an awful pity that so much of this is directed up a blind alley.

There are some useful objectives that can be achieved by the EU but it doesn't need to destroy our nations and impose an integrated political structure to deliver these. And it doesn't therefore need a Constitution. Mr Schuessel should do his 24 colleagues a favour and tell them so.

Geoffrey Van Orden is ae Conservative MEP for the East of England. He can be contacted at: 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, CM1 1RF or email:

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