Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Blair and the EU constitution

As you may have noticed, I’ve spent a fair amount of this week highlighting the lack of British involvement in the ever-increasing moves towards reviving / revising the EU constitution. Now, via Iain Dale, it seems that the (anti-EU Rupert Murdoch tabloid) News of the World reckon they’ve uncovered what Blair’s up to:

the Prime Minister intends to rubber-stamp the European Constitution without consulting his likely successor Chancellor Gordon Brown — not to mention British voters.

Mr Blair has PERSONALLY pushed forward plans for a permanent EU President and Foreign Minister as one of his last acts before he stands down as premier.

He will travel to Berlin on March 25 to sign the 50-page agreement, Declaration on the Future of Europe.

Far from a simple “declaration”, this is a binding treaty which embodies “basic laws” for 490 million people in 27 countries.

Quite how the News of the World think they know what the final text is going to contain when it hasn’t been written yet is anyone’s guess. But, of course, although the major proposals the NOTW mentions are hardly new (an EU President, EU Foreign Minister, EU Defence Minister and greater powers for the – democratically-elected, lest we forget – European Parliament), they all, the paper claims, add up to a move towards the eurosceptic bogeyman of “federalism”.

Is this take justified? It’s impossible to say.

The News of the World asserts (with little in the way of evidence) that this Declaration on the Future of Europe will be legally binding, forcing all signatories into handing over ever more power to Brussels. But considering that this will hardly be the first such declaration (similar ones were issued in 2001 following the practically useless Treaty of Nice and the Laeken EU Council), and that its predecessors were – as the term “declaration” implies – simply declarations of the intention to find a way to move much-needed EU reforms forward, with little in the way of specifics about what those reforms might be, it seems highly unlikely that any such document is going to contain any specific promises to implement new ways of working. Instead, the likelihood is that the latest version is going to be much like its predecessors – nothing more than a public acknowledgement that the current EU system is increasingly unfit for purpose.

And in any case, as my recent run-downs of the ongoing debates about the constitution have surely made clear, there is no consensus amongst our European cousins on precisely what is the best way forward in any case. Even if Blair does sign the thing (seemingly without the promised referendum), there’s little chance that all the other nine member states yet to ratify the original constitutional treaty will do likewise.

It’s far too risky for any of the French presidential candidates to commit to at the moment, the Netherlands are likewise unlikely to ignore their referendum (especially with the Dutch government so precarious), and it’s highly likely that Denmark, the Czech Republic and Poland are also going to have a few things to say about any attempt at straight revival of the old constitution. Yet without unanimity amongst all 27 EU member states, there is no way that the constitution can come into force.

Even if Blair does sign the thing – against the wishes of a decent chunk of his cabinet, not to mention the country – and even if we take the News of the World’s word that this new declaration is somehow legally binding and going to come into force as soon as it’s signed (as they strongly suggest), there’s a very strong probability that at least one other EU country will refuse to, and the whole thing will be scuppered.

Either way, I’m intrigued to know where the News of the World got all this information from – because not only is the declaration yet to be finalised, making their claims about its content speculative at best, but also they make the bizarre claim that “Downing Street played a major role in the latest negotiations”. Because of that there is precisely no evidence whatsoever – in fact, precisely the opposite. Why else would the more enthusiastically pro-EU types across the Channel have been complaining so much about Britain’s lack of involvement over the last year or more?