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29th May 2022

Just like the constitution, say friends and foes of new EU treaty

  • The changes are purely "cosmetic", according to Mr Giscard d'Estaing (Photo: EUobserver)

Both advocates and critics of the complete draft of the new EU treaty highlight its similarity with the bloc's failed constitution. While advocates consider it the argument for a swift ratification through parliaments, critics maintain it should be decided by public referendum.

Diplomats and legal experts from EU member states are gathering on Tuesday (24 July) to kick off the first round of talks over the bloc's Reform treaty, formally unveiled as a full 277-page version at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday.

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According to EU officials, the launch of the "Intergovernmental conference" on the new treaty should be a smooth process of clearing away minor differences over technical details rather than serious political issues.

The draft is based on a detailed outline agreed by the bloc's leaders in late June. It stems from the legal text contained in the draft EU constitution, which was given a red light from French and Dutch citizens in 2005.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former chairman of the European Convention which drafted the 2004 constitution, has pointed out that the changes transforming it into 'Reform treaty' are purely "cosmetic".

But while the constitution was supposed to be adopted by referendum in several countries, the new document looks likely to be ratified predominantly by national MPs, with only Ireland openly signalling a popular vote.

For some, the similarity in content between the two documents should be followed by the same ratification method previously envisaged for the constitution.

"I haven't found one single difference in legal obligations," argues a veteran Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde, from a eurosceptic Group for Independence and Democracy in the European Parliament.

"The form is different, but the content is the same. That is why I propose a referendum in all EU," he added in a statement.

Heated debate in the UK

The same message is expressed by UK conservative opposition and eurosceptic political activists, such as Open Europe which argues that its analysis has shown 96 percent of the new text is the same as the rejected constitution.

"If Brown now tries to carry on pretending that this is somehow a different document, it will be one of the most audacious political lies in the last couple of decades. It would be simply ludicrous," said the group's director Neil O'Brien.

But while the British prime minister Gordon Brown has not yet openly ruled out a popular vote on the issue, his Europe minister Jim Murphy suggested the calls for a referendum were "frankly absurd," in his speech to the UK's House of Commons on Monday (23 July), according to the UK Daily Telegraph.

Similarly, the British foreign minister David Miliband argued in Brussels, "The concept of a constitution has been abandoned. That is made clear in the new treaty. In that context we don't think there needs to be a constitutional referendum."

The notion that popular votes should be avoided so as to prevent the 2005 French and Dutch scenario became part of the strategy following the decision by German chancellor Angela Merkel to revive the constitutional process, in a bid to save the institutional reforms the charter was to introduce.

Advocates of a parliamentary ratification of the new treaty argue that national deputies are representatives of EU citizens and so their vote should not be played down as less significant to public opinion.

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