Constitution Mixes Iron With Clay
It was obvious from the EU’s calendar of events that the year 2004 was going to be, as one source put it, “pivotal for the future of Europe” (Stratfor, January 13). Some pundits even foreshadowed the beginning of the demise of this fractious mix of iron and clay as the unwieldy combine, especially following its expansion into a collective of 25 nations in May, struggled to find cohesion in the next phase of the Union’s development—political integration.
Thus the world watched as the EU leaders met at a summit on June 17 and 18 seeking to agree on a constitution that was to settle, in particular, the harmonizing of their taxation structures and their defense and foreign policies.
It is now clear that, despite the optimistic publicity surrounding the 25 EU member nations agreeing on a federal constitution, much acrimony had been in evidence during the summit debate. The end result is by no means a foregone conclusion. Eight nations have reserved the right to submit the matter to referenda. If any member nation fails to ratify the constitution within the next two years, it risks ending its days in the EU “too hard” basket.
Predictably, it appears that, far from working to further unite this disparate mix of European nations, the EU summit actually served as a forum to underline the dramatic differences that divide it. True, compromises were made. Poland and Spain agreed to new voting rules giving them less clout in the EU than they currently enjoy. On the other hand, following acrimonious exchanges with France’s President Jacques Chirac, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed victory in resisting compromise on his “red line” issues. “The fact is, we have kept control of taxes, of our policy on immigration, of defense, of foreign policy,” he said (Associated Press, June 20). However, political economist Rodney Atkinson, among other astute observers, noted, “Even in Blair’s terms we therefore control nothing else” (Free Nations, June 21).
For the first time, an opt-out clause was inserted into the final draft of the constitution, permitting a member nation to leave the Union. It will be interesting to note if Britain, 60 percent of whose population remain resistant to political and monetary union with the EU, becomes first to exercise that right.
One burning issue remaining under the surface, which the summit avoided addressing, was that which has been assertively touted by the pope. To the chagrin of the Vatican and the Catholic member nations (with the exception of secularist France), the constitution remains silent on recognition of the papal heritage of Europe—its religious roots! Watch for this contentious matter to rise to the surface over the ensuing months. It will be a hot issue in the national debates on ratification of the constitution as eurofanatics and euroskeptics, in a whole one third of the EU membership, lobby to make their case prior to the various referenda taking place.