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  Global Views
Still Hope for the EU Constitution?
By Jerome Kim
Staff Writer
Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Commission president

Once hailed as a model of regional integration, the European Union still seems clogged in one of its most profound crises yet. Three months after the rejection by France and the Netherlands through referendum, hopes to revive the EU constitutional treaty in the near future remain slim, if not vanished.

Speaking at the 25th anniversary of the anti-Communist movement in Poland last Wednesday (Aug. 31, 2005), European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said "in the foreseeable future we will not have a constitution. That's obvious. I haven't come across any magic formulas that would bring it back to life,"expressing the most pessimistic remarks yet by a top EU official about what will happen to the constitution.

So far, 13 countries have ratified the constitution but all 25 members are required to approve it to be implemented. Denmark, the Czech Republic, the UK, Portugal, Poland, and Ireland, who were also due to hold referendums, have indefinitely halted their plans.

What's next?

In order to prevent the imminent death of the constitutional project and perhaps more importantly in order to reestablish the dialogue with the people of Europe, political leaders, meeting at the European Summit (June 16-17), had decided to launch a "period of reflection" which would be used to clarify the contents of the constitution and hopefully provide a fresh start for further reform of the EU.

Since then, several possibilities have been put forward in order to overcome the current crisis.

Sebastian Kurpas, research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies based in Brussels, Belgium, said "in order to save the constitutional treaty in its entirety, the only possibility will be to continue ratification, whether as planned or after 'freezing' the process for some time."

It is indeed possible to envisage a re-run of the referendum in France and the Netherlands, as the "No" votes were widely perceived as a "sanction vote" against the executive in the first case and a discontent at the lack of clear explanations on the text in the second. This solution would also ensure that all member countries are consulted.

However, it also brings some considerable setbacks. The EU could find itself once again in a period of uncertainty and develop an even more negative dynamic for the constitutional project. Britain and Denmark, known for their Euro-skepticism, were also poised to have rejected the constitutional treaty.

It is also doubtful that politicians in France and the Netherlands would run the political risk to call for a second vote on the same text.

The other possibility would be to have a kind of "Nice Plus," taking some elements of the constitutional treaty, which are widely undisputed such as the nomination of a foreign minister, the External Action Service, or the Citizens Initiative, and introducing the more ambitious but much-needed elements such as a new voting system at a later date.

However, all these elements would have to be renegotiated and there is no guarantee that a common decision will emerge from these.

Presently, the second possibility seems more likely but the EU needs urgent and thorough reform because the complexity of its institutions and further enlargement on the horizon will certainly prove very difficult to manage under its current model. Also, its widely criticized "democratic deficit" and lack of clarifications about its functioning are increasingly exasperating the citizens of the Union.

Ironically, these are issues the constitutional treaty was seeking to address.




Jerome Kim, Korean-Belgian journalist, serves as a staff writer for The Seoul Times. Jerome grew up mostly in Belgium as his S. Korean parents immigrated to the European nation. He majored in international relations at York University, Canada. Jerome concentrates on European affairs as well as arts and culture.

 

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