Tuesday, August 26, 2003
The Silly Season Is Over - 26th August 2003, 22.15

One could argue that the 'silly season', that staple of August holidays, was sadly truncated this year with the ongoing focus upon the Hutton Inquiry. Nevertheless, the rest of Europe has decided to enjoy the heatwave and take their traditional four week siesta, even if it means that they provide no support for the weak and infirm. However, the European Constitution has begun to twitch the antennae of Europe's pols as they attempt to stop the wheels following off their unwieldy trolley.

Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, was providing this line in Prague. A strong Europe and a strong America woudl stand together. Unravelling the "success" of the European Constitution would be absolutely "terrible". This rather camp performance didn't put off the Czechs who noted that if you didn't want to negotiate any further, then why bother having an inter-governmental conference. They obviously still haven't got used to their new position as a rubber stamp. The same position formed the crux of Berlusconi's meeting with Gerhard Schroeder and the opening salvo of the European MPs.

The strategies for defending the present draft were also in evidence. Berlusconi envisaged no more than two to three major amendments to the Constitution and the Constitutional Committee of the European Parliament suggested that referenda should be held on the same day as the European elections in 2004.

The European parliamentarians recognised that referenda could prove the Achilles heel of this process. The European political class desperately wishes that their efforts could be given a veneer of democracy, especially if a majority of Member States voted in favour. However, the economic and political winds are not blowing in their favour as Euroland suffers from a slowdown that can be blamed, in part, on monetary union. Denmark is always a special case, but Germany has turned more Eurosceptic in the last few months and the French public can never be relied upon.

Only in Britain is the Constitution seen as a final step that closes the Euro debate. This has highlighted the trust that the public place in Tony Blair and has proved a constant reminder of his unwillingness to yield to his own rhetoric and allow the People to make their choice. If the Constitution is passed, the Telegraph argues that this will no longer matter:

Yet sincere euro-fanatics need not despair entirely, for the proposed European constitution would make the question of euro membership largely redundant. Under its terms, Brussels would "coordinate the economic and employment policies of the member states", gaining control of everything from maximum working hours to permissible budget deficits.

In such circumstances, the right to mint our own currency would be like Scotland's right to print its own banknotes today: symbolically important, but no guarantee of economic independence. Perhaps Mr Blair is playing a longer game than we think.

This autumn will prove decisive for the future of Britain and Europe.


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