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Some of the 27 member states of the European Union may soon find themselves subject to institutions their people have rejected: 1 January 2009 is the final date for ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, signed by the heads of state and government in December 2007 and already ratified by Hungary, Malta, Slovenia, Romania and France.

 

Nicolas Sarkozy once said that no true European and responsible politician could carry on as if nothing had happened after the French said no to the European constitution, that it was a message from the French people and must be heeded. But that was back in June 2006. Once he was president, he felt entitled to disregard this expression of the people’s will. He has just persuaded more than 75% of French MPs to adopt a treaty that is almost identical to the Constitutional Treaty that 54.68% of French voters rejected on 29 May 2005. The Socialist Party could have demanded another referendum; it had undertaken to do so, but abandoned the idea.

 

In an attempt to outmanoeuvre the many British eurosceptics before the 2004 European elections, Tony Blair also promised that the people would have an opportunity to vote directly on the new basic law for the EU. But his successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, preferred to leave it to parliament to ratify the Lisbon Treaty (1) .

 

The Constitutional Treaty was rejected by 62% of the Netherlands electorate in June 2005. Here too the task of ratifying the treaty approved by the European Council in December is to be entrusted to parliament, to avoid the danger of consulting voters who may not come up with the right answer. In Portugal, the Socialist Party announced during the parliamentary elections in February 2005 that the people would have a chance to vote on the draft Constitutional Treaty. But the prime minister, José Socrates, has now changed tack, on the pretext that circumstances have changed. This is a different treaty. A simplified one (2).

 

This casual brush-off is surprising when, in France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing admits that the Lisbon Treaty is based entirely on the draft Constitutional Treaty rejected in 2005: "The tools are largely the same. Only the order in which they are arranged in the tool-box has been changed" (3). A view confirmed in Britain where the Labour-dominated Foreign Affairs Committee noted that "there is no material difference between the two texts". Only the Irish will be allowed a referendum, in May or June.

 

François Mitterrand said in 1983 that he had two ambitions, the construction of Europe and social justice. Is democracy preventing us from achieving the first ambition? The members of parliament who voted against the decision taken by universal suffrage are drawn more and more from privileged social classes, but the message from ordinary voters in France and the Netherlands was a resounding no. Is this significant? Jack Lang, former minister and expert in public law, may have the answer. In his view, there is no point in getting agitated about legal provisions that even the lawyers don’t understand. After all, he said, a treaty is only a treaty. ________________________________________________________

 

(1) The House of Commons voted on ratification on 21 January 2008 and the motion was carried by 362 votes to 224. The House of Lords has not yet taken a position.

 

(2) Sarkozy used the term "simplified" five times in his speech on 10 February. But the treaty is 287 pages long, contains 356 amendments of earlier treaties, and is accompanied by 13 protocols, 65 declarations and an annexe.

 

(3) Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, "The EU Treaty is the same as the Constitution", The Independent, London, 30 October 2007.

 

 

 

Translated by Barbara Wilson

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