UK ignores Schroeder’s pleato continue treaty ratification
6 June 2005
LONDON – The British government announced Monday that it had cancelled plans to put the controversial EU constitution to a referendum next spring, despite calls by Germany and France for member countries to continue the ratification process.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said the plan to hold a referendum next spring had been “put on ice.”
“We are in uncertain times and we do not proceed until we have got certainty”, he said.
The widely expected decision came after ‘no’ votes in France and the Netherlands last week which British analysts said effectively killed the treaty.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was due to outline British plans for how to solve the EU crisis over the treaty in parliament later on Monday.
Government sources said Britain now hoped for a mediator role to break the stalemate.
The German and French leaders said on Saturday that despite French and Dutch rejection of the European Union constitution, all remaining countries in the bloc must go ahead with national votes on the treaty.
“Every member state has the right and the duty to carry out its election,” said German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s chief spokesman Bela Anda, after a two-hour working dinner between French president Jacques Chirac and the German leader.
Brushing aside the French ‘no’ to the constitution, Chirac’s spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont, added: “France has voted, but one nation cannot decide the fate of a treaty agreed and signed by 25 nations.”
Both Schroeder and Chirac agreed that all EU leaders would have to find answers to the things worrying so much of the public in the bloc. When pressed by reporters they declined to be specific.
“I don’t want to go into details,” said Bonnafont.
The Times newspaper said on Monday that Britain’s decision to shelve a popular vote would launch “a battle for the leadership of the European Union.”
At stake was the future direction of the Union, with Britain demanding further reform and liberalisation while founder members France and Germany believed that the current crisis could be overcome without further changes.
The British government had come to the view that a referendum in Britain on the treaty would be unwinnable and could see no point in continuing the process, analysts said.
However, by deciding not to introduce a parliamentary bill required for a referendum in early 2006 Britain had not ruled out presenting the legislation at a future date, government sources insisted.
The opposition Conservatives on Monday called on the government to abandon plans for a referendum altogether.
Foreign policy spokesman Liam Fox said: “Our government could give a lead by saying Britain will not ratify the treaty … because the treaty itself is dead.”
British officials were engaged in intense diplomatic efforts on Monday to gather “allies to counter the Franco-German axis” before an emergency summit of the EU on 16 June, the Times said.
The Republic of Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland and Portugal had all shown “signs of wavering” on their pledges to hold referendums, it added.
According to the Times, the idea for a “nine-month ratification holiday” was gaining ground, especially among the EU’s new Eastern European members.
Subject: German news