15th Aug 2020


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

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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


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


Drums of war again, in Europe

Just a few weeks ago, as Europeans in several countries put their furious debates about masks and corona appsinto higher gear, Turkey and Greece almost came to blows in the Aegean Sea.

Schrems privacy ruling risks EU's ties to digital world

With more and more trade moving to the digital realm, Europe can ill-afford to cut itself off. Meanwhile, China continues to advance a vision for an internet that is fractured along national boundaries and controlled by governments.

Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy

It is of utmost concern to the environmental health community that forces within the EU Commission are actively trying to push back against a European Green Deal that is supposed to put people's health at its core.


An open letter to the EPP on end of Hungary's press freedom

I hate to break it to you, but excuses have run out. You have to look at the images of sobbing journalists in Index's newsroom, and shoulder part of the blame. Your silence, your continued procrastination led to this.

Why EU beats US on green pandemic recovery

The United States recovery focused on a number of important issues, including unemployment benefits and funding for health care providers, but lacked any programs directed towards addressing pollution, renewable energy industries, and clean technology improvements.

Why hydrogen is no magic solution for EU Green Deal

Why is the EU Commission promoting a lose-lose (pay more, get less) strategy rather than the straightforward use of green electricity, where it will deliver bigger CO2-reductions and for less money?

News in Brief

  1. Most EU states oppose US sanctions on Russia pipeline
  2. UK imposes quarantine on France, Netherlands, Malta
  3. At least 3.5m EU nationals to stay in UK
  4. UK urged to 'calm down' on migrants
  5. Pompeo starts EU tour with anti-Chinese 5G deal
  6. Dutch lawsuit seeks billions from tech firms
  7. Amazon people urge EU banks to stop funding pollution
  8. Russia vaccine could be "dangerous", Germany says

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us