25th Sep 2017

Support gathers for pause in constitution ratification

Support for a suspension in the EU constitution ratification process is growing as the tide of popular opinion turns against the document in the countries that still plan to have referendums.

Both the European Commission and the EU presidency have abandoned their previously hard line positions that ratification should continue despite the no to the constitution in both France and the Netherlands two weeks ago.

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On Tuesday (14 June), Mr Barroso told French TV that there should be a pause.

"The best solution ... may be prudence, I would advise at least a pause, a reflection, to give some time", said the commission president.

He said there was a "risk" of further rejections of the constitution. "I see it, I feel it", said Mr Barroso.

"That is why I must ask the heads of state and government to honestly explain their situation, [and] how they see the referendum process", he said.

Speaking before MEPs in the constitution affairs committee, Nicolas Schmit, the Luxembourg Europe minister said that a postponement would be an "indefinite suspension" adding "perhaps we need to agree on a period".

The feeling that EU leaders are likely to agree on a period of rest during their meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels was confirmed by British prime minister Tony Blair who said he had detected a "change of mood" over the last 48 hours as some countries consider shelving their referendum plans.

He also said he was "more clear than ever before" that his own country had been right to put its referendum plans on ice.

His words come as polls in Denmark, Ireland and Poland - all countries planning to have a referendum - show a drop in support.

Luxembourg, normally considered a strongly pro-European country and which is next up for a referendum (10 July) has also seen the no side gain strongly in the polls.

Legal uncertainty

Most countries are now looking to France and the Netherlands to give some sort of indication about how they wish to proceed.

According to one EU ambassador, "no one knows what it will mean" if a country now ratifies the treaty, because legally it can only come into force if all 25 member states ratify it.

And some countries have already said they are not prepared to continue if there is no legal clarity on the situation.

"If the French and the Dutch do not indicate clearly how they intend to handle their no-votes, then it is best for us to wait", Sweden's prime minister Goran Persson said before parliament on Tuesday (14 June).

Some scenarios are being floated on how to deal with the situation, including prolonging the deadline for ratificiation - something publicly supported by both Finland and the Czech Republic.

Currently, the deadline for ratification is the end of October next year.

Emotions still too high

But diplomats say that EU leaders are entering the meeting with no clear sense of what the parameters of the discussion are - something unusual for a summit which often have carefully pre-cooked agendas.

"My expectation is that there will be a focus on European unity and moving forward", said the EU ambassador, adding that the most likely message from the summit will that national governments should decide how they want to move ahead - without too many explcit instructions from the EU level.

He said there was unlikely to be much in the way of solutions or plans of action from the Paris and the Hague as feeling from the referendums is "too fresh and too vivid".

"Emotions are very high", he concluded.

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