Friday

2nd Dec 2022

Opinion

Can the French rejection be rejected?

The French have rejected the proposed Constitution by 55 per cent of No-votes with a surprisingly high 70 per cent turnout. Therefore, the Constitution is no longer a formal proposal.

The Constitution was proposed under the rules of the Nice Treaty which demand unanimity for change.

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The only possibility to revive the document is via a new proposal from a new intergovernmental conference, which decides by unanimity – and includes the support of the French government.

This could happen on 16-17 June when EU heads of state and government meet for their next fixed summit in Brussels.

Respect or ignore

But it is up to the French to decide if they will respect their referendum or ignore it.

In 1992, Danish voters rejected the Maastricht treaty. Two days afterward, foreign ministers met in Oslo on the fringes of a NATO event and decided formally to continue the ratification process despite the Danish No.

It was legally possible only because the Danish government ignored the referendum and promised they would achieve ratification at a later date. And they did, after a new referendum in 1993 where the Danes were offered some permanent opt outs from the treaty, which was then formally ratified by the Danish government.

When Ireland voted No to the Treaty of Nice, the Irish government also ignored the No and came back at a later date with a new referendum. The Nice Treaty continued to exist as a formal proposal because the Irish government revived it formally.

It is not an obligation for other governments to decide if a country's position is fair or not. They need the formal go ahead from the French president. The ratification process cannot continue in good faith if it is not revived by the French.

Danish and Irish examples

The Netherlands will vote on Wednesday (1 June). The Dutch referendum is different from the Danish and Irish votes, because it is a voluntary referendum. It has no legal value, but it certainly has a political one. The Dutch can, therefore, have the referendum or cancel it according to their own choosing.

The Danish referendum - foreseen for 27 September - is different from the Dutch vote because it is a legally binding vote. There has to be a referendum in Denmark if the Constitution is not adopted by 150 of the 179 members of the Danish Parliament.

The majority in parliament must decide to hold the referendum in a law proposing the ratification of the Constitution. Since this Constitution is now rejected there is no possibility for a binding referendum unless the French president informs the Danish government that France intends to ratify the proposed Constitution at a later date.

The Danish government foresees the final adoption of a law on 7 September that would pave the way for a 27 September referendum.

The draft Constitution includes a non-binding declaration (no. 30) about a possible summit to discuss the consequences if 20 of the 25 EU governments have ratified after 2 years and one or more countries have run into difficulties.

This Declaration does not alter the fact that the Treaty of Nice demands unanimity. There is a new article in the proposed constitution with a similar content. But this is not law, yet.

The ratification must respect the demand for unanimity in the Treaty of Nice. After the French referendum, the Constitution is therefore dead – unless the French authorities revive it.

Splitting - instead of uniting Europe

Politically, the proposed Constitution does not unite Europe.

A better way forward could be establishing a working group with an equal number of members in favour of the Constitution and members opposing the Constitution and then see if they could propose ideas for common playing rules instead of the Nice Treaty and the Constitution.

We need a simple basic treaty with 50 articles in 20 pages covering the necessary aspects of European co-operation. We do not need a Constitution so complicated that even the French president does not know the precise content.

He proved his lack of knowledge on French television. Now he has the chance to respect the French vote or reject it - or perhaps elect a new people.

The author is a Danish MEP and co-president of the eurosceptic IND/DEM 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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