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April 22, 2005
The EU Constitution (Or Not) Once More
I've become fascinated with the potential fallout from the upcoming French referendum on the European constitution, so a post on the subject by Lynne Kiesling at Knowledge Problem caught my attention. Lynne points to an article on the subject in the Economist that, among other things suggests a French "non" doesn't spell the end for the constitution's future, let alone that of further economic integration as some have suggested.
The common wisdom is that if France votes no, the constitution is dead. But a rejection on May 29th would probably not be the end of the process. Officials in Brussels say that other national referendums on the constitution should go forward regardless of the outcome in France. This is because if the French vote no and the approval process grinds to a halt, European leaders would be tempted to tinker with the constitution to get French approval.
That does come with a "but"...
But this would tempt referendum voters in other countries then to imitate the French, forcing the process to repeat over and over.
... and the downsides persist even if the French don't bail:
But even if France and the Netherlands vote yes, further hurdles await the treaty. Poland, whose voters have soured on EU membership, will also hold a referendum. And Britain, historically the most Eurosceptical member of them all, is due to hold a vote in 2006. Were the French to vote no, however, the British, like the Dutch, might ditch their referendum. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, suggested as much for the first time on Monday, saying: “You can't have a vote on nothing.” And if the French vote yes to the treaty? That might only exacerbate Britons' fears of a socialist takeover of Europe, encouraging them to reject it.
Officials insist there is no “plan B”, hoping not to give sceptical voters an attractive alternative. But unofficially, there has been talk about the possibilities. One might be to keep the treaty’s “constitutional” sections, including the charter of fundamental rights, as well as the changes in the EU’s voting system and the Union's institutions, while cutting the section dealing with the EU’s policies in detail. These could be renegotiated later and appended to previous treaties (which the current constitution is meant to replace in full).
UPDATE: Be sure to read Bernard Godement's comment to this post (below). Excellent, as always.
UPDATE III: Tyler Cowen, on the other hand, thinks ratification would be a good thing (for now).
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