After his little upset Italian PM Romano Prodi’s managed to get through the vote of no confidence (winning by five votes – which considering how close in numbers the two main coalitions are is actually not quite as tight as it sounds).
In fact, so orderly has been his reinstatement that some have even raised (entirely plausible) suspicions that the whole thing was a stage-managed scam to get him more secure.
After all, having just passed a vote of no confidence he has effectively just been reassured that he has support for his proposed electoral reforms (largely designed to scrap the horrendous mess Berlusconi made of the Italian electoral system), as well as for his efforts to lead the way in reforming the EU.
But still, this is Italy. Nothing is certain in its politics, and it’s also entirely possible to take a very different view. And in any case, even if Prodi did plan this all from the start, the likelihood of him staying in office more than another year or so is pretty much minute based on the past terms of Italian PMs (not to mention the on-going contentious issues of gay rights and Afghanistan).
Which all means that if this former European Commission President wants to use his time as Prime Minister to help the EU get a version of the constitution through, he needs to move fast, because various other leading EU types are beginning to realise even more precisely why they wanted to scrap the current ways of working. It was bad enough every member state having a veto when there were just 15 – but now there are 27 it’s well nigh impossible to get anything significant through.
As such, the likes of Spain, Germany and Italy can moan as much as they like about other EU member states not being as enthusiastic as they are about the constitution, but it’s never going to get them anywhere, because it’s pretty damned obvious that several countries are less than keen on the existing text, and so are going to carry on vetoing it.
Of course, quite why Germany, Spain, Italy and the other countries that have ratified the constitution should be prevented from pressing ahead just because some other countries aren’t happy is one of the idiocies of the way the EU is still being maintained as a “one size fits all” organisation.
What the constitutional enthusiasts SHOULD be doing, if they had any sense, was proposing an alternative text that allows some countries to sign up to having an EU president, foreign minister and qualified majority voting (the key contentious issues in the current text), and others to opt out of those parts they see fit. With a bit of cunning, the details could be worked out to ensure this system works well for all – just as the Eurozone countries can operate alongside the non-Eurozone countries, all under the EU umbrella.
It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure – but until something like this is adopted, any attempts to ratify the existing constitutional treaty are not only doomed to failure, but are also doomed to increase intra-EU resentments and tensions – perhaps to an unsustainable level. After all, why should Britain or the Czech Republic prevent Spain or Luxembourg from moving towards closer political integration? And why should Spain or Luxembourg force Britain or the Czech Republic to integrate more than they are comfortable with?
Back to the drawing board, Romano. The time you’ve got left as Prime Minister isn’t going to be long enough to get the existing treaty ratified. It is, however, long enough for you to come up with a workable proposal for a multi-tier EU that could – just could – keep everyone happy.
It would take a well-known EU-enthusiast like Prodi to get his fellow EU types to accept what would be, for the more fervent amongst them, a long-overdue public acknowledgement that the dream/bogeyman of an “ever-closer union” – the federal, political Europe that europhiles adore and europhobes detest – was not a dream, but a pipedream. Not in their lifetimes, nor yours, nor mine, nor our grandchildren’s is that ever likely to happen – and it’s about time they realised that and started acting acordingly.