» Tuesday, May 31, 2005

European Constitution

Asked about Monsieur De Villepin’s appointment as Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would wait for a formal announcement from Paris and then the Prime Minister would respond accordingly. Asked what the Prime Minister had said to President Chirac when they spoke, the PMOS said that it was not our practice to go into the details of conversations, but that they could take it that what the Prime Minister had said yesterday in Italy was a fair guide to his approach. He had suggested that we all needed a period of reflection and that this reflection was not just on the implications of the constitution but also the implications for a wider debate in Europe about the economy and economic reform. This included how we addressed people’s practical concerns which may have under lied the way in which they had voted in this instance.

Asked if the Prime Minister had a tribute to Monsieur Raffarin, the PMOS said that Monsieur Raffarin was someone that the Prime Minister genuinely found good to work with. He was very helpful to this country in addressing issues such as Sangatte and as such he would miss him. Asked in regard to the different political system in France whom was the Prime Minister’s main point of contact was, the PMOS said that it was usually the President, but also we did have working relations with the French Prime Minister on domestic issues.

Asked if we were still going to have a referendum and whether the Prime Minister backed Lord Kinnock who had said that we needed to slim down the Constitution, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had made it clear that if there was a Constitution to vote on then the people of this country would have a vote. What he had also said was that what we needed, between now and the European Council, was to have a period of reflection. Less than 48 hours after the French vote was not time to bring to a close that period of reflection. Let us reflect properly. There would be a debate within Europe, both on the Constitution itself and on the wider issues. The Prime Minister was particularly keen, as he underlined yesterday, to pursue the debate on this wider issue and on how we addressed the concerns and fears that this vote indicated. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to Lord Kinnock in the last few days and if he was in anyway acting as a Government spokesman, the PMOS said that Lord Kinnock was entitled to his view as an individual and the Government expressed its own view. The two were separate things. Asked if we agreed with Peter Mandelson who had suggested that the French may want to look at this again, the PMOS reiterated that what we needed was a period of reflection. That was not just for us, but also for other Governments too. However, it was for other Governments to then decide what they proposed to do.

Asked if this was a change of position from what the Prime Minister had said during the election campaign, which was that Britain would press ahead with our referendum no matter what happened in other countries, the PMOS said no, that was not the case. What the Prime Minister had said was that if there were a Constitution to vote on then there would be a vote. But what we all had to reflect on were the implications of the French vote.

Asked if it was the Prime Minister’s understanding that if one country voted no and did not ratify then the Constitution could not pass, the PMOS said that the Constitution had to be ratified by Europe as a whole. We should wait and see where all Government’s thought we were at the European Council.

Suggested that the Prime Minister must have given some indication when speaking to President Chirac on where he thought things would go, the PMOS said that what you would expect to have if you suggested, as both he and Jack Straw had, that you had a period of reflection was that you had a proper discussion. Proper discussions were not had if you started from a fixed position, in the sense that it became a dialogue of the deaf. What you had to have was a proper discussion in Europe about the way forward which dealt with the issue of the Constitution, which the Prime Minister had said was a sensible attempt to resolve the European Union at an institutional level. But more importantly underneath that was how we addressed the structure of economic challenges that globalisation posed to Europe. What the PM had long argued for was the need for economic reform throughout Europe to address these issues.

Asked if we were back in the territory of ‘variable geometry’ following the French vote, which suggested you could not have a one size fits all formula, the PMOS said that what we had to recognise now, without debating the merits of particular phrases, was that globalisation faced Europe with new challenges. Those challenges as emerging countries, such as India and China, became stronger and stronger, would not go away. Therefore what we had to resolve was a way to meet those challenges that was credible and delivered real sustainable prosperity to the people of Europe. The Prime Minister believed that economic reform was the way to address those world wide challenges at the same time as preserving the security that the people of Europe looked for in terms of their wages and so on. That was the debate that he thought we needed to have in Europe, but this was not something that would happen overnight. It was something that had to be a proper debate.

Asked if it was the correct legal position that until the European Council said otherwise that the Constitution remained valid, the PMOS said that he was not a lawyer but that was how he understood it to be, but the reporter should speak to the proper legal authorities about that. However the reality was that Europe proceeded by consensus. Therefore what you needed to have was a consensus about the way forward and the proper forum for that was the EU Council. We would have events between now and then, which would no doubt effect the volume of the debate one way or the other, but what you would not have until the Council was the chance to develop that consensus on the way forward. That consensus was particularly important for us at this point not just in terms of our national interests but also because we would be taking on the European Presidency. Therefore Europe would be looking to us to help shape the debate about where we went from here.

Asked if the Prime Minister was active today or during the week in terms of speaking to other European leaders, the PMOS said that he had already talked to President Chirac and President Barroso. No doubt he would have other conversations as the week went on. However, this was not a time to rush at fences. This was a time to absorb the implications and think through those implications. That was what we would do. Asked if the Government would proceed with Parliamentary proceedings on the Referendum Bill or wait for the EU Council, the PMOS said that there were all sorts of implications and the best thing was rather than rushing at the fences was that we should reflect.

Asked for a flavour of the talks between the Prime Minister and President Chirac, the PMOS said that obviously the President was talking to many leaders but he had given a read out of the result as he saw it. They agreed on the importance of the EU Council as a way of trying to achieve a consensus on how to move forward. It was an exchange of information about the result and an analysis of how we would try to reach a consensus and move forward at the EU Council. Asked if the President expressed any recriminations to the Prime Minister, the PMOS said that recriminations were not part of the conversation. As always with President Chirac it was an open exchange of views. There were not recriminations expressed. Asked if the Prime Minister had expressed his view on the need to reform Europe economically, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had expressed that view publicly so no doubt he had expressed it privately as well.

Asked if we were still determined to bring Turkey into Europe, the PMOS said that our position had not changed. We believed that there were reasons why it was good to have Turkey in the position it was and those arguments had not been affected by the results of the French referendum. Europe had to proceed by consensus and we would continue to argue the case as to why we believed it was in Europe’s interest to have Turkey included. The decision on Turkey was taken two Council’s ago, but there were a number of steps for them to go through.

Asked if Monday’s statement would be a definitive one on our position on a referendum, the PMOS said that suggestion was counter to everything he had just been saying. It would be an update. The important thing was that we had this period of reflection leading up to the EU Council. The volume of the argument may be affected by the Dutch result and as people knew the Prime Minister had yesterday urged the Dutch people to vote yes.

In answer to further questions on the Constitution, the PMOS said that a proper period of reflection meant that you consulted your partners in Europe. You consulted about what was the best way forward and then collectively you made a decision. Europe as a whole had to absorb the implications of this result. No doubt the Dutch result would affect the context in which that process of reflection took place. But already Europe had to reflect on the implications of this result and then try to come to a consensus at the EU Council. In terms of rushing our fences, we would not be doing that any more after the Dutch result, whatever it was, than we were doing today. You could not say today what countries’ approaches would be at the Council but it was better that we absorbed the implications of the French result, whatever the implications of the Dutch result were, and then move forward. People would reflect on these outcomes and would want to try and reach a consensus about the way forward. Other countries would adopt their own position, as was perfectly within their right. Equally however the Prime Minister’s belief was that you had to listen to the implications of the vote we had just witnessed. That was what shaped the Prime Minister’s approach. You needed to have a discussion that reflected peoples’ concerns on all sides. You needed to have an open and intense debate across Europe and not just in France. What that would take into account was the different experiences of Europe as a whole and not just one country. The Prime Minister said yesterday that he still believed that the Constitution was a good attempt to address the issues. Therefore in that sense he argued for a yes vote in France and he continued to argue for a yes vote in Holland.

In answer to further questions on economic reform in Europe, the PMOS said there was no point hiding the fact that there were different points of view about the way forward economically in Europe. That debate had already been going on. Equally, however there was no point hiding the fact that there were different economic experiences in Europe. What was important was that we brought that debate out into the open and that we intensified that debate. What the French result reflected were genuine concerns within Europe about where Europe was going economically. Now we had to, on the one hand, acknowledge those concerns and on the other hand acknowledge the reality of globalisation and the reality that the dynamic of globalisation was not going to go away. We had to somehow or other bring the two together – the concerns and the reality of globalisation. It was a mistake to characterise European opinion, as solely in one camp in this debate, that was not the case. The debate in the European Council on issues such as the Services Directive showed precisely that. Therefore what you had to do was: a) reflect on people’s concerns; b) reflect on what the realities of globalisation were; and c) try to bring the two things together. This was not a debate that you had from the rooftops shouting at each other. The Services Directive was being considered again by the Commission and was still very much on the table and it was a QMV issue and did not have a veto. The Services Directive was about liberalising the services markets across Europe and it was something that we were very much in favour of.

In terms of our presidency it was the Presidency’s role to reflect the different views that countries had about approaches but also it was entirely proper, within that, for us to give a lead in terms of setting out what we believed was the right approach to economic reform. We would fulfil both roles. The substance of the argument was how we reached a consensus in Europe about the right way forward on the Constitution but more fundamentally about the right way forward on the economy in Europe so that we addressed the concerns that people had.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. The EU Constitution is dead. It is about time the politicians realised that the people are not going to accept more interference and more costs (German friends reckoned the \x80 cost them close to 40% inflation – similar to our 100% within 2 months of going decimal and French friends were not that pleased either)both of which would have accrued from what appears to be an unstaiable lust for a bigger (and maybe a more politically powerful) EC.
    If the Pm wants support then he and his colleagues might do well going back to the original idea for the EC – TRADE. You know the stuff silly people who actually have a job do 5-6 days a week, PRODUCING selling and buying things.
    Just a thought.

    Comment by Roger — 2 Jun 2005 on 12:23 pm | Link
  2. If the Euro has pushed up prices by 40% why is core eurozone inflation just 1.4%? (FT 02.06.05)

    At the end of the day, retailers set their prices and it is up to consumers to accept or reject them. The Euro does not cause inflation.

    We cannot have free trade in Europe with 25 different sets of trade laws, economic policies and tax regimes. Free trade requires a politically strong EU.

    On the other hand, Europe’s social market, so valued by the French and Dutch, is under threat and constitutional change is viewed with suspicion. Is this why people voted in such numbers for the European status quo?

    Comment by Matt — 3 Jun 2005 on 3:01 pm | Link
  3. Monsieur de Villepin

    Comment by Colonel Mad — 3 Jun 2005 on 11:25 pm | Link
  4. A Vile Pain.

    Comment by Mr Pooter — 4 Jun 2005 on 9:43 pm | Link
  5. Many people now gloating in this country about what they expect to be the imminent demise of the E.U. on the back of the French and Dutch vote, need to remember one thing. For every ‘friend’ in Germany, France or elsewhere who was ‘displeased’ by inflation, there are several more who will stand up for the E.U. Many people in F and NL categorically stated that their No votes were NOT votes against the E.U., but other (not inconsiderable) issues. I know some of them.

    I am hopeful that the votes and the preceding discussions in those countries mark a new period of open democratic discussion across the E.U. ( something that has been clearly lacking in many states for too long). I hope that the leaders will take note of the expressed opinions, and come up with something more palatable. That is the practical meaning of democracy! If they do not do this, then the E.U. indeed deserves to lose credibility and support, but we are not at that stage yet.

    What is now needed is a major effort to make visible the actual everyday gains that ordinary people take from European integration, address the democratic deficit, and put the politics at the service of the people, rather than the other way round. In no country is that more needed than the U.K.

    Comment by I Stock — 6 Jun 2005 on 11:40 am | Link
  6. There are many everyday gains that EU citizens take for granted: freedom to work anywhere in Europe, equal rights to study, improved environmental standards and free emergency health care on holiday, to name just a few. But to cope with having 25 Member States and to continue being a positive force the EU should rewrite its rules.

    Whatever settlement is agreed in the future, it needs to strengthen the link between Europe and its Citizens.

    Elections to the European Parliament should not be regarded as voting for a glorified county council. As defenders of the rights of EU Citizens, the European Commission should have a directly elected President. In an ever more interdependent world, European governance should be as democratically accountable as national government.

    Comment by Matt — 6 Jun 2005 on 1:46 pm | Link
  7. Preferaly more accoutnable than national government. Half the problem in the member states is that people don’t like their domestic polticial arrangements, most of which are historical accidents or were cobbled together in a different time. I certainly would not recommend that the E.U. based itself on the British model – I have far higher hopes of it than that.

    Comment by I Stock — 10 Jun 2005 on 10:56 pm | Link

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