European Constitution: Yet again, Dutch ‘no’ is in jeopardy

23 January 2007

European Constitution: Yet again, Dutch ‘no’ is in jeopardy

Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt today made an ardent plea for the EU to push on with its proposed European Constitution. “Too much attention has been paid to opponents and not enough to supporters,” Belgium’s Prime Minister told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.

Mr Verhofstadt’s call to persist with a European Constitution rejected by last year’s French ‘Non!’ and Dutch ‘Nee!’ was taken from the same song-sheet as the plea contained in a recent speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Delivered before the European Parliament, Ms Merkel’s speech provoked a strong reaction from SP European affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel. In similar vein Senator Tiny Kox, the SP’s representative in PACE, argued that both speeches, coming as they did from the leaders of EU member state governments, indicated that it was time to get “all hands on deck” to ensure that when a new government is formed in the Netherlands it does not respond to such pressure by simply shoving the overwhelming ‘no’ vote of June 2005 aside.

Tiny Kox“Mr Verhofstadt’s speech in Strasbourg was certainly clear enough,” said Kox. “Europe must go through with the Constitution. It must be broadened in cope, even, because it represents a necessary step towards a political federation and eventually to the United States of Europe to come.”

The Belgian Premier expressed the hope that later this year, in Berlin, when the leaders of member state governments meet under the German EU Presidency, a powerful declaration will be adopted, to the effect that persisting with the plan for European economic integration, and more importantly political integration, is guaranteed. The most important thing of all, according to Verhofstadt, would be the scrapping of the requirement for unanimity in a number of significant policy areas. “If we don’t do that, then the institutions of the European Union will eventually run aground. History offers numerous examples of this,” he warned.

SP Senator Kox concluded that the situation was now clear. “The Netherlands will, along with France, come under enormous pressure to say ‘yes’, after all, to the rejected European Constitution. A government of PvdA (Labour), CDA (Christian Democrats) and Christian Union, as now seems likely, would consist of two parties which in the run up to the referendum of 1st June 2005 moved heaven and earth to persuade the Dutch population to say ‘yes’. And these two would form an overwhelming majority of such a government’s strength. And while the third party, the Christian Union, it’s true, was against the European Constitution, it was also against holding a referendum. So the risk is extremely great that a new governmental agreement will offer an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to the constitutional treaty but ‘no’ to a new referendum. It is therefore vital for everyone who voted against the European Constitution to keep a careful eye on developments in the next few months. Otherwise we’re likely to have the result snatched from under our noses.”

In addition to the European Constitution, PACE’s agenda for this week features the introduction of new rules in the Council of Europe’s member states (virtually every European country) against the mistreatment of children. Also under discussion will be the future of Kosovo, on which United Nations special envoy, former Finnish Prime Minister Martti Athasaari, will report. Other agenda items include approaches to HIV/Aids in Europe; how to improve the position of migrants; and the increasing danger in which critical journalists – and therefore the freedom of the press – stand, as shown by the recent murder of journalists in Russia and Turkey. Finally, the Assembly will give its attention to the urgent question of future approaches to the production and consumption of oil, gas and nuclear power.

Kox, who was this week elected as chair of the United Left Group in PACE (known by all by its French acronym, GUE), is pleased that the group is taking a distinctive position on this question, distancing itself from other political tendencies. “The left group in the Assembly rejects the view that energy must be seen simply as a market governed by market practices. This sort of neoliberal thinking is extremely dangerous and totally unrealistic. All sorts of disturbing developments in relation to the climate, but also wars which appear to have a great deal to do with oil, show that energy is by a long chalk about much more than a market ruled by supply and demand.”

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