From Socialist Voice, June 2007

EU treaty negotiations to restart

A new intergovernmental conference of the European Union is about to be called to renegotiate the constitutional treaty agreed by political leaders in June 2004 but rejected by French and Dutch voters the following year. At the EU summit meeting in Brussels next month the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, hopes to reach agreement on the timing and summary content of a new treaty. In the weeks before the meeting, bargaining has intensified between those who support a simplified and scaled-down document and the defenders of the original text. The Taoiseach has already pledged support for an intergovernmental conference “with a precise and limited mandate.”
     The Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, warned the minimalists—among them the British, French, Dutch, Polish, and Czechs—that eighteen states had ratified the treaty and want to see it substantially retained. If necessary, this could be done through a two-speed method, through which those who want to move forward might do so while leaving the option open to the minimalists to join later.
     The Irish—that is, the Irish elite—are counted among the former, though the people in a referendum might have a different view.
     Prodi emphasised a strengthened foreign and security policy, a more permanent EU presidency and increased majority voting as immutable, and it can be expected that those member-states that have ratified the treaty—the great majority through parliamentary ratification—would drive a hard bargain in the intergovernmental conference in order to avoid the risky process of possible ratification for a second time.
     Ahern chaired the last intergovernmental conference in its closing stages, and the political parties—with the exception of Sinn Féin—support the constitutional document. It is most likely that this conference will not scale down the provisions significantly but will drop the explicitly constitutional language in order to provide a smokescreen for the more substantive measures—particularly the institutional ones.
     Following recent talks with Angela Merkel, Ahern said he would have “no difficulty” with a simplified constitution. “The big thing is to preserve the substance and content of the treaty,” he said. “As far as simplifying it [is concerned], we have no difficulty with that. The process of giving substance and balance—those are the issues that are important. Otherwise we are reopening things we’ve been through before, and we don’t need that. Those arguments are over.”
     It is expected that the intergovernmental conference will be a short-lived, unrepresentative and undemocratic exercise, like its predecessor, and agreement may be expected during next year’s French EU presidency. Sarkozy has supported a mini-treaty, including a permanent presidency, enhanced co-operation, and more majority voting. He wants it ratified by the parliament, not through another referendum.
     How far this is compatible with British, Dutch and Polish support for a much less ambitious document remains to be seen in the negotiations. On the other hand the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, has emphasised the role of national parliaments and the need to protect national identity.
     The constitutional treaty did not surface during the general election campaign, given that there is a consensus among the major parties. However, those who take a critical view of these developments must now begin preparations for a campaign in 2009, when the “new” treaty is likely to be put to a referendum. One practical way to prepare is to offer assistance, either financial or participatory, to one of the EU-critical organisations already in existence.

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