Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Nons and Nees have it ....

I have been following with interest the results of the rejection by French and Dutch voters of the proposed European Union constitution.

One question which surfaced in this country even before the French and Dutch votes is whether it is worth having a vote in this country given the rejection of the constitutional treaty by one or more other EU members. It is interesting that the more intelligent pro-Europeans, at least in this country, were the first people to answer "No" to that question, while the more hardline Eurosceptics have been the ones calling for a referendum in Britain to go ahead.

Surprisingly, some of the most prominent pro-Europeans on the continent do not appear to realise that ploughing on as if nothing had happened is almost guaranteed to produce more "no" votes by increasingly large majorities.

The "Non" voters in France and "Nee" voters in the Netherlands may have different views from Brit and Danish Eurosceptics on many issues, but one thing which really gets up the noses of all four groups is the propensity of the European establishment for ignoring the existence of any views they do not agree with. Even after the French 55% "Non" vote, some Brussels officials were trying to "spin" it as really being a "Yes". As one Eurosceptic MEP said, they just don't get it.

As far as I'm concerned, whether we still need a referendum in Britain depends entirely on whether the result of the votes in France and Holland will be respected. If it is accepted that the treaty is dead, then it would be a waste of time and money having a pretend vote on a dead treaty. But if there is any possibility that voters in France and Holland will be treated the way the Danes and Irish were over Maastricht and Nice, and told to vote again until they vote the way the establishment wants, then we should vote on the constitution too, and throw it out too.

In the unlikely but not impossible event that the governments of Europe are stupid enough to continue trying to force the constitution through, we should, of course, be asked to vote on the amended version with any concessions made to the French or Dutch, not on the original draft.

Both pro-European commentators trying to save something from the wreckage, and left-wing Eurosceptics, have been making great play with the differences between the "No" campaigns in France and Holland and the views of most eurosceptics in Britain. There is some truth in many of the points they make - if we did have a referendum in Britain you can guarantee that our "No" campaign would quote extensively from the French "Yes" campaign and vice versa.

But the idea that the "no" votes were a left wing protest against liberal (small "l") economic policies is too simplistic, and the idea that those who oppose the constitution in different countries have nothing in common is just plain wrong. There are both left wing and right wing opponents of the constitution in all EU member countries, including some pro-Europeans who happen to think that this particular draft constitution is very badly written. Constitutions should not prescribe economic policy, and it is perfectly possible to support liberal and pro-market economic policies without wanting them written into a constitution. Constitutions should be clear and succinct, and this one is neither.

The other aspect of this situation which is so-wrong headed as to be downright funny is the suggestion from people who ought to know better that the "no" votes are some kind of victory for Tony Blair. The truth is that they have released him from a difficult position which was entirely his own fault. If all the rest of Europe had voted "Yes" he would have tried to bully Britain into doing the same, at best using up every ounce of political capital he had left, more likely losing the vote and leaving office with a failure so obvious that even his spin machine could not have disguised it.

Now instead he will have to spend his six months as head of the council of ministers knocking heads together in an attempt to persuade his european colleages to see the writing on the wall. As so many British Prime Ministers before him, the would-be positive European will be seen on the continent as the arch sceptic.

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