Prodi ups the constitutional stakes
I just caught the start of this interview with ex-European Commission President Romano Prodi on the Today Programme this morning (needs RealPlayer), but what little I did hear seemed to threaten a mini-crisis for pro-Europeans.
There doesn't appear to be a transcript yet, so this isn't verbatim, but he said something along the lines of "any referendum on the European constitution is not just about the constitution - it is about the EU itself."
This is patently bollocks, but as there is a fairly good chance a referendum on this particular constitution may be lost (assuming the UK ever gets around to holding one - which considering how many other referenda have to be won in other member states before ours isn't that likely), should this be the case the anti-EU cause will instantly be bolstered far more than simply winning the referendum vote. They will also then have a former Commission President's words to back up their claim that a "no" vote on the constitution is a vote to withdraw from the EU.
We shouldn't read more into the potential rejection of this constitution than is necessary. If it isn't approved, a new (doubtless watered-down) version will be drawn up. Considering the complexity and confusion of the current document, this could well be the best thing for Europe.
I am largely pro-EU, and am one of the few people who doesn't HAVE to who has read the constitution all the way through (fun, fun, fun!), yet I'm still not entirely sure whether I would vote "yes" to ratify it were I offered the chance in a referendum.
Most people haven't read the whole thing and so will have to rely on biased (either pro or anti) summaries from the press; even if they do read the entire thing, most people are not well enough versed in European law or the language of diplomatic relations to make any sense of the thing.
It's not a simple push towards greater integration, no matter what the Eurosceptics may claim; equally, it is not simply a tidying up exercise, as the pro-EU camp has argued. Even if you are capable of reading and understanding the constitution in its current form, it's so bloody big and convoluted it's nearly impossible to tell what the hell it actually stands for - if, indeed, it actually stands for anything.
There's no doubt a witty comment about the constitution being a metaphor for the EU itself to be made here - after all, it's very hard to get agreement on what the EU stands for these days. This is precisely why we need a constitution - but why couldn't we simply have followed the American model?
Update: Both The Road to Euro Serfdom and Lose the Delusion have takes on this as well - not about Prodi's comments, but those of EU Secretary General Javier Solana who, while not going as far as Prodi, has stated the obvious fact that if the constitution is rejected there will be consequences for the EU relations of those member states whose citizens don't fancy it much. This will, of course, largely be because those states which do ratify it will be a tad pissed off that they can't go ahead and do what they want because people in other countries don't want to. In other words, the checks and balances of the EU system will be frustrating those who want greater integration, while those who don't will be able to carry on pretty much as before - the EU project will (for now, at least) progress only as quickly as its most reluctant members will allow.
Update 2: Via the ever-interesting Political Theory Daily Review, a good American summary of the proposed European constitution and its problems: "The document reads more like the by-laws of a very large corporation or a bureaucratic behemoth rather than like a constitution organizing the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government... It could thus seem that this entire proposed "Constitution for Europe" may be the first draft needed to grow the concept out of its initial amorphous neutered stage into an organized system of mature checks and balances... Let's hope so. A vigorous debate might just create the conditions needed to transfer the discussion from the "artful compromise" full of brilliant yet seemingly paralyzing definitions to the design of a practical fundamental law democratically determined by an in-formed electorate."