We must rescue EU constitution!

ANOTHER June, another sweaty summit meeting in the Brussels HQ of the European Council. It is one year on from the referendums in which the French and Dutch voted No to the European Union's Constitution.

ANOTHER June, another sweaty summit meeting in the Brussels HQ of the European Council. It is one year on from the referendums in which the French and Dutch voted No to the European Union's Constitution.

Nothing very much has happened in the intervening 12, officially dubbed the 'period of reflection' about the future of Europe. The truth is that the governments and the European Commission are paralysed by indecision about what to do next. Fifteen countries have completed their ratification procedures on the Constitution, and Finland aims to do so in the autumn. But for the Constitution to enter into force all 25 states must ratify it according to their own constitutional requirements (either national parliaments or referendums).

No government has resiled from its October 2004 signature on the document. Rightly, most remain committed to rescuing the constitutional treaty. But how? Messages from France and Holland are mixed: clearly, there were many reasons why people voted No. Few objections seem to have been aimed directly at the proposed constitutional reforms.

Indeed, there are still large majorities in both countries for a more effective, efficient and democratic EU, which is what the Constitution is all about.


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Hostility was focussed on unpopular national leaders and political parties. As far as there was a European dimension to the plebiscites, it was the state of the present Union and not the prospective reforms which attracted attention. Discontent about social and economic issues featured highly, as well as anxiety about the May 2004 EU enlargement. The irony is, of course, that the No votes blocked the very reforms that would put things aright.

Some heads of government are falling prey to the temptation to cherry-pick the things they like best from the Constitution. This piecemeal approach to reform is a great mistake, and risks destroying consensus among the different countries and the EU institutions. The 2004 Constitution has a strong internal logic. It is a complex and sophisticated package deal. Pull out one brick and the whole edifice will collapse.

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Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, backed by the Greens, want to salvage the Constitution by modernising the common policies of the Union - especially those concerning the economic, social and energy policies and the CAP. The Conservatives and Socialists are less keen on reform. At least another year will pass before we see which side wins.

Andrew Duff is the Liberal Democrat Euro-MP for the East of England and spokesman on constitutional affairs for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. www.andrewduffmep.org

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