EU should advance with small but decisive steps – not via constitution

7 February 2007

EU should advance with small but decisive steps – not via constitution

According to Andrew Duff, leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, the Dutch debate about the future of the European Constitution is characterised by “old-fashioned Dutch nationalism and deep conservatism” (FT.com, 30 January 2007). It is clear from this that Mr Duff has little understanding of the situation in the Netherlands or why the Dutch electorate rejected the constitution.

by Harry van Bommel, SP MP, published in the Financial Times, 7 February 2007

Andrew Duff ridicules the Dutch no-vote by insinuating that the Dutch population rejected the constitution because of their dislike of the symbols of the European Union or because they do not like the name of the treaty. If he had bothered to do a little research, he would have come to the same conclusion as both supporters and opponents of the constitution: the no-vote in the Netherlands was not a manifestation of anti-European sentiment. Instead, the majority of the Dutch population rejected the constitution because of its contents. As Mr Nicolai, our former Minister of European Affairs put it, with the constitution European cooperation “goes too far, goes too fast, is too expensive and Europe is too meddlesome”. The conclusion that the no-vote was not an anti-Europe vote is backed by different studies. Also, the no-vote was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. While 61.6 percent of the Dutch rejected the constitution in June 2005, nowadays almost 70% of the Dutch population would say no and disagree with Duff’s statement that the constitution represents “the step forward in Europe’s political integration”.

In March, the EU will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Although a critic of the constitution, I will also celebrate this anniversary. More than fifty years ago the great European leaders realised that introducing European integration top-down was not the right path towards European integration. Instead of enforcing an institutional structure and the transfer of sovereignty this would involve, the founding fathers of a United Europe, Monnet and Schuman, dreamed of a Europe that was built “through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”. This Europe would conquer the hearts and minds of the European peoples. “Out of all this will come forth Europe, a solid and united Europe”, Monnet and Schuman stated in their declaration of 9 May 1950. Europe has not yet conquered the hearts and minds of the population. Therefore, attempts to impose the constitution on the no-camp would be a historical mistake.

After the rejection of the constitution in France and the Netherlands, the European leaders rediscovered the vision of Monnet and Schuman and in July 2005 they gave priority to a ‘Europe of results’. This has led to several satisfactory outcomes. The European leaders came to the conclusion that no constitution was needed to open up the meetings of the Council of Ministers. This has already led to a more transparent decision-making process. Also, no constitution is needed to come to an agreement about the cross-border exchange of law enforcement data. These are just some examples of how European cooperation has led to concrete results in the past one and a half year.

The EU should continue on the path of delivering concrete results. By taking small but decisive steps, a better functioning and more democratic European Union will evolve – a Europe that can count on broad popular support. Imposing the constitution on the population, as some of the fierce supporters propose, would be an insult to the legacy of Monnet and Schuman.

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