Failure of constitution still overshadows EU

24th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, May 24, 2006 (AFP) - A year after French and Dutch voters handed a stunning 'no' vote to the European Union's disputed constitution, the bloc is still scrambling to stay on course, with no clear solution yet in view.

BRUSSELS, May 24, 2006 (AFP) - A year after French and Dutch voters handed a stunning 'no' vote to the European Union's disputed constitution, the bloc is still scrambling to stay on course, with no clear solution yet in view.

"The lessons have not been learnt because everyone is drawing different conclusions," said Professor Paul Magnette, head of the Institute of European Studies at the Free University of Brussels.

The possible explanations for last year's double electoral blow are various: poor communication of the whole EU project; fear of globalization; too rapid EU expansion; lack of realism in seeking to integrate hugely different countries.

And without agreement on what caused the crisis, it is naturally difficult to forge consensus on how to resolve it.

"With the perspective of the constitution we knew we were going forward, we weren't suffering because of the problems of the existing institutions," said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

"But with its rejection these problems suddenly become urgent. It's above all psychological, but it has a real political effect," added Gallach, whose boss was due to become the EU's foreign minister under the constitution.

Guillaume Durand of the Centre for European Policy Studies admits that the constitution was never going to be a "miraculous" solution to all the EU's problems.

But the pact represented a joint project which drove the whole 25-nation bloc forward. Without it, "finding a project which mobilizes everyone becomes very difficult," said Durand, explaining the current sense of paralysis.

To make things worse, the French and Dutch rejections highlights a growing contradiction within the EU, between its free-market objective of ever greater competition, and the desire of some to preserve a "European social model."

Faced with these tensions, national political leaders continue to "not tell the truth," laments Durand, noting the tendency to "diabolize Brussels" and a failure to explain what Europe can and cannot do.

Following the May 29 French vote last year, and the Dutch coup de grace three days later, the EU agreed on a "period of reflection" to decide what to do next, in theory lasting until next month.

Few are surprised that the limbo looks set to continue for some time: EU commission head José Manuel Barroso suggested this month that no decisions are likely before 2008 — a long way after elections notably in France, where some pin hopes for a solution on a successor to President Jacques Chirac.

In the meantime the Franco-Dutch snub of the constitution — which has nevertheless so far been ratified by 15 EU states — seems to have delayed the prospect of EU membership for candidates like Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey.

The French, who want to hold a grand debate on the bloc's enlargement strategy at a mid-June EU summit, have already warned that they want strict application of the notion of "absorption capacity" for the EU — a concept which has existed since 1993 but which has rarely been highlighted.

Romania and Bulgaria, who appear to have squeezed in the EU door with promises of joining by January 2008 at the latest, already face particularly strict treatment from Brussels.

The EU commission, which initially was due to give them a definitive date for accession on May 16, has delayed its final decision until October, calling on the two countries to make "urgent progress" in reform in a number of areas.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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