30 May 2005
BRUSSELS – The European Union’s champions in Brussels put on a brave face on Monday after French voters overwhelmingly rejected the constitution.
At a joint press conference after the vote on Sunday, the presidents of the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council expressed their disappointment, but insisted that other EU countries should continue the process of ratification.
“Nine member states representing half the population of the EU have already ratified the European Constitution,” pointed out Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
He ruled out the suggestion that the rejection by France – which voted 54.87 percent against the constitution – would lead European leaders to renegotiate the document.
“There is a very serious problem and we can’t say it’s ‘business as usual’,” he admitted. But he added: “I don’t believe, from my contacts with all the governments that there’s the will and the slightest possibility of reopening a negotiation that would be in any case very difficult.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister and current EU president, admitted he had “a heavy heart”, but insisted: “The constitution is not dead. The process of ratification must continue because other countries have ratified.”
Eurosceptics and ‘no’ campaigners in Brussels celebrated the rejection – the first so far – by one of the union’s founding members. They argued it would change the future of Europe and force EU leaders back to the drawing board over the constitution.
Belgian Social Democrat MEP, Jean Maurice Dehousse (PS), told the radio and TV station RTBF that he was happy with the French vote and believed it had safeguarded the chance of ‘another’ Europe.
However, the PS’ former Belgian prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene described himself as “enormously disappointed” over the result. Dehaene, as the former vice-president of the European Convention, was a leading player in the drawing up of the constitution.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said: “We have to respect the clear position taken by the French people, but it doesn’t mean the end of the process of ratification and it can’t paralyse the daily politics of the Union.”
Pro-Consitution MEPs in Brussels rallied after Sunday’s defeat in a bid to help the ‘yes’ camp in the Netherlands. Pundits have predicted the Dutch will also vote ‘no’ in its referendum on Wednesday.
Martin Schulz, German leader of the Socialist group in the European parliament, said: “The battle goes on. We move on now to the Dutch referendum. The Socialist group offers its full support to those in Holland who are campaigning hard for a yes vote.”
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news