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Op-Ed Submission for the Irish Times

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					                                       Op-Ed Submission
                                              for
                                        The Irish Times

Viewed from Washington, if there is any upside in France’s rejection of the EU Constitution on
May 29, it is probably the level of interest US news organizations have shown in it. Several
influential American commentators have devoted columns to it both in anticipation of the vote
and since (though not all of them flattering or well-informed), while the New York Times and
Washington Post deemed the result significant enough to be their headline story on May 30.

The interpretation here of the French result seems to fluctuate between two extremes: that
this is an apocalyptic event, plunging the EU into chaos and heralding the end of the EU, or
that the overwhelming rejection by voters of a treaty backed by their leaders could actually be
the catalyst needed to spark real and necessary public debate in Europe.

With all that is being said and written, the public on both sides of the Atlantic needs to be
clear about what the French ‘No’ does not do. It does not bring about any reduction in the
powers of the European Union, nor in the rights Europeans enjoy as citizens of the Union. The
Union still retains all its powers in trade, the environment, anti-trust, consumer protection and
the rest. Its two foreign policy chiefs, Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, remain in
place. EU citizens still enjoy their existing treaty rights to live, work and do business in other
European countries. To the extent that any EU country denies them those rights, it may find
itself hauled before the European Court of Justice.

The EU Constitution would have consolidated all these powers and rights in one document. It
would have brought about a simplification of voting procedures, better consultations with
national parliaments, a more unified formation of policy, and majority voting on cross-border
crime. But the human rights provisions in the EU Constitution are already being enforced by
the European Court of Justice anyway.

In different circumstances, if the economy was better and if reforms had already yielded fruit,
France might have voted ‘Yes’ to the constitution. But we should not forget that ‘No’ is always
the easiest answer to give in any referendum. Indeed it may be time for democrats
everywhere to reflect on the fact that if major political questions could all be reduced to a
simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, we would never have had much need for parliaments in the first place!

Looking at it from this side of the Atlantic, I see the main impact of the French ‘No’ as
psychological rather than legal. The confidence with which the European Union opened its
doors during the 1990s to new member states may be temporarily deflated. On the face of it,
French voters seemed to be expressing reluctance about further enlargement. In the short
term, that may have a negative impact in places like the Ukraine, Turkey and the Western
Balkans where the possibility of EU membership provided an incentive for democratization and
reconciliation of former enemies. Legally speaking though, nothing has changed. The EU is
still free to offer membership to additional states, and it remains the case that each proposed
new member state must be approved by all existing members.
With or without the proposed Constitution, just one existing member state saying ‘No’ was and
remains enough to stop a new member joining. Considering the difficulties the United States
itself had in agreeing the basis for adding states to its Union during the first half of the 19 th
Century, the unanimous expansion of today’s European Union from an initial group of six to its
present membership of 25 and counting is no small achievement.

Another psychological impact of the French ‘No’ may be the pace at which some remaining
steps are taken to complete our internal market. Most of the job is already done, but action
on services, on mutual recognition of professional qualifications and on state aid may be
slowed down a bit. That now is a matter of political will, but the legal basis for completing the
job remains in place.

I believe that, after an initial period of reflection, the leaders of the three EU institutions – the
Parliament, the Council and the Commission - will set out to prove to voters that the EU
project is not only alive and well, but that it provides a much better way to give Europeans
security and prosperity in the 21st Century than 25 different nation states could acting
separately. It is hard to think of any global problem that Europeans could cope with better as
25 separate states, than they could by working together in shared sovereignty. That reality
will reassert itself with the passage of time.

As far as relations with the United States are concerned, reality will also reassert itself. Europe
needs to influence US thinking, and the US needs to influence European thinking. That can
best be done if Europe speaks with one voice, and listens through two ears rather than
through fifty! The Summit between EU Presidents Barroso and Juncker and US President Bush
on June 20 in Washington will be a good opportunity for Europe’s leadership to demonstrate a
renewed self confidence and a strengthened determination to get on with business.

Ambassador John Bruton
Head of the EU Commission Delegation to the United States

				
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