Saturday

15th Aug 2020

Opinion

The elusive Plan B

What happens, many are asking, if the French people reject the EU Constitution? Would the Treaty be scrapped? Could it be renegotiated? Would the other referendums be necessary? Could there be another French referendum some other time? Would a group of Member States go for "enhanced cooperation" and create an "inner core"?

These options were all mentioned some time or other by politicians and EU officials.

Read and decide

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  • Any Plan B can only be aimed at short-circuiting democracy (Photo: Kevin Bonici)

Only last week, in an interview with French Radio Europe 1 (18 May), Commission President Barroso echoed what Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair and others had said: if the French say No to the Constitution there is no "Plan B" and it would not be realistic to renegotiate it.

Do we need a Plan B?

But do we need a Plan B? What happens if the Constitution is rejected?

The first thing that happens is that life would go on in today’s framework. It would certainly not go back to the tyrannical past, as Commissioner Wallstrom implied at the Terezin concentration camp some weeks ago.

What follows the rejection of the Constitution is not a plan, but a consequence: if one single Member State rejects the EU Constitution it cannot enter into force and should therefore be shelved and not force-fed to the people.

When the Member States signed the Constitutional Treaty last October, it was on the premise that it required ratification by the parliaments of all 25 Member States. This is stipulated in Art. IV-447 of the Treaty itself.

And yet, to complicate matters further, Declaration 30 (annexed to the Constitution) states that if after two years four fifths of Member States have ratified the Constitutional Treaty then the matter is taken up by the European Council.

Art. IV-443 reflects this ratification procedure but instead it relates solely to "proposals for the amendment of this Treaty," which needs the ratification of all Member States, but with the four fifths provision coming into effect after two years if required. In this case one has to keep in mind that for a Treaty to be amended it has first to enter into force.

Given the incongruence between Art. IV-447 and Declaration 30, one thing is clear: it is either all Member States or four fifths; we cannot have both.

Threats by the heads

But this is not how the integrationists are seeing it.

One has only to consider the current threats in relation to the UK referendum. If the British reject the Constitution, Blair again pointed out last week, Britain would lose influence in Europe.

The warning of the creation of an "inner core" without the UK is frequently sounded, together with that other implication bandied around by Blair: a British No would mean withdrawal from the Union.

Whether this is a fact or a threat, or whether it would mean withdrawal or dismissal, I leave it to the hypothetical future, but it is puzzling that the people are called by their governments to vote Yes or No, and then be threatened of doom by the heads of those same governments should they vote No.

The French have less to fear

If the threats of an "inner core", withdrawal and isolation seem to work with the British, they can hardly work with the French, for there can be no "inner core" without France, unless we're talking of a German core.

So Commission president Barroso had this to say to Radio Europe 1: "It would be perceived as a weakness of France, and of Europe," he warned. "Outside of the EU, in the US, in China, people would say: Europe is not even capable of agreeing on a Constitutional treaty… It would be very bad."

The point that Barroso is missing here is that it is not a matter of whether we are capable of agreeing on a Constitutional Treaty, interpretable as it may happen to be, but whether we actually want this new European Union that the Constitution would create.

The doom and gloom scenario is only in the minds of those who see no alternative to this Constitution. But can the people decide without the threats of governments and EU officials?

Basic question

The basic question that must be answered by the peoples of Europe is not whether their country would lose influence, or whether it would have to withdraw, or experience isolation, but whether they want the European Union to be promoted to a Federation by this supranational Constitution.

This is not a simple question, more so since we are not even decided over what the Constitution entails.

Some politicians still persistently deny that this is a Constitution, maintaining it is a Treaty, even if it is evidently a Treaty that establishes a Constitution for Europe, as the title explains and as its 448 articles testify.

The fact that the Constitution transfers more competence to the EU is clear enough. The fact that increased majority voting strongly favours centralisation of Union powers should also be clear. Perhaps the fact that most federalists are very happy with the Constitution may serve to indicate that those who criticise it for its federalist foundations do have a point.

Evidently, like Nostradamus' prophesies, the EU Constitution is interpretable to the extent that not even politicians agree on what it actually is, let alone what it creates, or what it eventually unleashes.

Any Plan B can only be aimed at short-circuiting democracy. We are tinkering with the foundations of democracy without the capacity to anticipate the effects of our actions.

The author is a campaign coordinator with the Independence/Democracy Group in the European Parliament

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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