5th Jun 2023

Father of EU constitution issues referendum warning

The architect of the rejected European constitution, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, has criticized ideas by Dutch politicians to hold a referendum on the EU's Reform Treaty.

The former chairman of the European Convention - the body of over a hundred politicians which drafted the old EU constitution - said in Brussels on Monday evening (17 September) that he believes a referendum would not be the right way for the Netherlands to ratify the new-look reform treaty.

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  • Mr Giscard believes referendums are often dominated by issues other than the actual polling question (Photo: EUobserver)

Asked about the ongoing Dutch debate on whether to hold a referendum, he told EUobserver that "this is not an appropriate instrument."

Mr Giscard argued that referendum campaigns are often dominated by other issues than the question at stake. "Something will come up in the course of the debate. People will vote on that other issue instead of on the actual [referendum] question," he said.

The ex-president of France was speaking after a debate organized by think-tank Notre Europe, during which he also slammed the Dutch for their attitude on EU symbols in the treaty.

The Hague successfully lobbied for symbols such as the 12-star European flag – included in the original constitution – to be scrapped from the new treaty text.

"This text abandons the symbols of the EU – the flag, the hymn and the motto…. Who demanded this? It was not the countries that ratified the [constitution]. It was not France. It is very interesting who demanded this," Mr Giscard said.

The father of the EU constitution said he deplores many of the changes to his project that have made the eventual reform treaty text much more low-profile – such as the degrading of the notion of "European citizenship" in the text.

"It is very important to speak about European citizenship," he stated. "Where is considered opinion here?" he asked criticizing the moves to undermine the idea.

Biggest race in majority voting

Meanwhile Italian politician Giuliano Amato, one of Mr Giscard's former deputies in the EU constitution drafting process, also voiced unhappiness with aspects of the reform treaty in Monday's debate.

He said the "real constitutional asset" of the original constitution had been the inclusion of the EU's Charter of Fundamental rights, a citizens rights catalogue. But in the reform treaty, the UK secured an opt-out from the charter, which according to Mr Amato "leads to a clear conclusion."

"Anybody saying this treaty is a constitution just wants [UK prime minister] Gordon Brown to lose the next elections," he said referring to UK opposition claims that the reform treaty is essentially the same as the constitution.

But Jens-Peter Bonde, a veteran Danish member of the European Parliament, highlighted the similarities between the two documents. "The only difference is the presentation – it's the same content," he stated. "The legal obligations are the same."

The eurosceptic MEP stressed that nothing is new in the reform treaty in terms of real political substance. As the original constitution, the "so-called reform treaty" removes member states' vetoes in 61 policy areas, he said.

"This is the biggest race in majority voting we ever had," according to Mr Bonde.

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