Saturday, May 28, 2005
What Happens Next?

Antoine Clarke was speaking at Brian Micklethwaite's last Friday of the month on the impact of the referendum, currently taking place in France. Almost everybody was expecting that a 'No' vote would win, due to their lead in the polls. We learned that this differed from the run-up to the referendum on the Maastricht treaty where the 'No' vote never pulled ahead of their opposition in the opinion polls.

Much of the discussion circled around the political implications of a result rejecting the European Constitution, especially as the European politicians had proved remarkably unimaginative in their response. However, such discussions rarely take into account the legal options open to the actors. The reaction of the European elite to a 'No' vote in national referenda will be shaped by the existing rules laid down for the ratification of the Constitution. These have been summarised by Euractiv.

The ratification process was laid out in Clause IV-442. This stated that, two years after the signing of the Constitution, a European Council would be convened if the Constitution had been ratified by 2o Member States, and rejected by others (euphemistically called "encountering difficulties", or known as the will of the people) :

"If, two years after the signature of the treaty amending this Treaty, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council."

The strong rejection of the European Constitution by two of the founding members will undermine the legitimacy of the ratification process. Some will argue for the continuation of the process, but most Member States will desire tackling the subject at the next European Council, providing Tony Blair with some work for once. They will follow the model of Clause IV-442 for the route to resolution, although the authors of the Constitution did not anticipate such an early 'crisis'.

This crisis will test the political skills of the European elite. They have usually been found wanting and, if they follow their Pavlovian tendencies, we can expect a continued process of ratification for the Constitution. By increasing the number of countries that say 'Yes', they can place greater pressure on those countries that say 'No'. If they show some cunning, they may downplay the need for a Constitution and reintroduce these measures in two years, using the tried and tested treaty model. It is in Britain's interests that they prove true to form and continue to promote the Constitution, as this will provide us with the opportunity to hold a referendum on Europe.


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