Digging the Grave of European Construction

Article published on Dec. 18, 2003
community published
Article published on Dec. 18, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The leaders of the so-called ‘Union’ have been unable to overcome their differences. They are putting the Constitution in danger and Europe with it.

Saddam’s arrest has diverted attention but the sad reality remains the same: the European constitutional project has not been adopted. This is a relative failure since an ill-formed compromise or a definitive end would have been worse. But it is an obvious failure none the less since 95% of the text had already been agreed upon and ultimate agreement was possible.

Who is responsible?

Firstly, the Polish government, not yet a Member but already obstructing progress. Just behind them, the Spaniard, Aznar, who is more nationalist than European, with his eye on Washington rather than Brussels. Holding everything up does not bother him. These two wanted to conserve the exorbitant privilege granted to them in Nice; that is to say, giving them almost as much weight as Germany in terms of the number of votes in the Council. As a starting point, this was understandable but it was intolerable that they stuck to their guns right up to the end.

Berlusconi, the serving Council President, is also responsible. His distinction was not on the same level as his self-importance. Just before the Summit he announced with a swagger that the solution was in the bag. Once in Brussels he demanded that a conclusion be reached before the football match between Inter Milan and Bologna began. During a crucial lunch he wanted to talk about ‘women and football’. Once the business was over, and ruined, he was very pleased with himself, asserting in all seriousness that everyone had congratulated him. He insulted journalists by saying that he was an expert in handling men and added that he had thanked all the others ‘by calling them by their first names’.

Prodi avoided such vulgarities without being any more effective. Having strongly criticised the constitutional project before, he was badly placed to defend it. In the end he only did so once the Summit was over.

Chirac’s numerous mistakes cannot be exonerated: the first errors were made at the Nice Summit in 2000, a necessary evil; his more recent mistakes have continued to multiply throughout 2003 (the new members who he invited to ‘keep quiet’, the Stability Pact which he trampled on); he made his latest mistakes during the Summit when he gave everyone the impression that nothing should be touched and everything postponed. Thanks to such behaviour he strutted about representing European intransigence in great style and handily put off indefinitely the important decision about a referendum in France. To cap it all, barely had the failure been digested than he was launching an appeal to create so-called ‘pioneer groups’ [creating a hard-core of European nations], an idea which would turn the majority against us even more and indeed torpedo Europe if it were to go ahead.

How can we get through this?

The people who govern us are only interested in Europe when they are put under pressure – from the media, citizens, events or calendar dates. A lot of them would bury the Constitution and shed only crocodile tears. Nevertheless, the prospects for success have not entirely disappeared which gives the Constitution some protection. It has its defenders who must not loosen their grip: officially, that includes all our governments, with Belgium, Germany, France as a rule, Italy, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and, up to a point, Blair himself at the forefront; the European Parliament wants the Constitution; Giscard, Amato, Dehaene, and members of the Convention including the national parliamentarians will continue to defend it; and last but not least, numerous organisations, a multitude of European citizens and so on.

Left to their own devices, our governments risk pulling the plug. But if they are put under pressure they will yield.