» Friday, October 29, 2004

European Constitution

Asked when the referendum for the EU Constitution might take place in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s comments today, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Foreign Secretary had simply been setting out the realities about the timing. Every country had two years from today in which to make a decision about the Constitution. Moreover, it was necessary to allow the parliamentary process to take its course in order to obtain parliamentary approval. How long that might take would depend on the parliamentary timetable – although it would obviously be a matter of months rather than weeks. In addition, the UK was due to hold the Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2005. Running a referendum at the same time, therefore, would clearly be an “interesting experience” given all the demands that would entail. In the light of all the above, however, it was important to acknowledge that we had not reached any definite decision as to when a referendum might be held. There were various factors to take into account and we would have to wait and see how things panned out.

Asked what the referendum question would be in the Bill, the PMOS said that we would address this issue at the appropriate time. We had yet to go through the parliamentary process. We would make any necessary decisions after that. Asked if the Prime Minister wanted to hold the referendum as soon as possible after relinquishing the EU Presidency post, the PMOS said that we would take things one stage at a time. The first thing to do was to obtain Parliamentary approval. Asked if he was aware of anything which might rule out holding the referendum on the same day as the local elections in 2006, the PMOS said that the timing of the referendum was pure speculation at the moment. It was important for people to respect the parliamentary process in the first instance. We would be in a better position to assess the situation once that had been completed. Questioned as to whether the referendum on the EU Constitution would be held on the same day as the referendum on the Euro, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had made clear, the EU Constitution and the Euro were two different issues.

Asked to repeat the Government’s pledge to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution regardless of the position in other countries, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had made his position on this issue very clear on the floor of the House. We would hold a referendum in this country irrespective of what other countries might do. Put to him that the Foreign Secretary had said this morning that “all things are possible’ in answer to a question about whether the referendum in the UK would go ahead if the result of the referendum in France was negative, the PMOS said that Mr Straw had simply been making the point that this was all speculation. The Prime Minister had stated the position on the floor of the House. It had not changed.

Asked when the Bill for the referendum would be presented to Parliament, the PMOS said that he had no intention of pre-empting the Queen’s Speech. In any event, the parliamentary timetable was a matter for the Business Managers. Asked if Denis MacShane had inadvertently revealed the date of the next General Election this morning when talking about the timing of the Bill, the PMOS said that it was up to the Prime Minister to decide when the next General Election would take place.

Asked if there was any sense that the signing of the Constitution today “looked bad” as it was taking place before ordinary people had been able to have a look at it for themselves, the PMOS said he thought that ordinary people knew what was in the Constitution because there had been a lot of publicity about it at the time it had been agreed. Today was an important day. In 1957, the UK had not attended the signing of the Treaty of Rome. As a country, therefore, we had had to play catch up. That was no longer the case. The UK was attending the signing of the new Treaty today, not simply as a member of the EU but as a member who was leading from the front in terms of where Europe was going in relation to economic reform and enlargement, as well as pushing forward (both literally and metaphorically) the boundaries of Europe – and doing so on the basis of nation states co-operating together. It was clearly a Europe in which we felt at home.

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

1 Comment

  1. One glaring omission from the government\x92s plans for a referendum on the proposed EU constitution is any measure to ensure that the media act fairly. It would be profoundly undemocratic for the national press to be allowed (as during the Common Market entry referendum in the 1970s) to skew the result.

    National dailies in this country are predominantly (70%) owned by three large corporations. Given a free run during the referendum, they will campaign for whatever outcome they perceive to be in the interests of large media corporations. There are no examples of large private-sector media corporations which give higher priority to the democratic value of enabling equal access to the media by all sides in political debates than to maximizing shareholder value and promoting their proprietors\x92 political prejudices. Company law, in fact, precludes any such prioritization of the public interest.

    There is also no guarantee that, left to its own devices, the media will divide equally between Yes and No camps. Even if it did, there could be no guarantee that its presentation of either camp\x92s position would do justice to the various strands of opinion within it. The EU constitution is opposed not just by vociferous, well-funded Little Englanders, but also by people who want far more democracy within the EU, and want social rights and community interests to be given precedence over the business interests which the draft constitution would further empower.

    Consequently, in the period leading up to the referendum, the national press and media generally must be placed under a binding obligation to facilitate equal exposure for the arguments of either side, and fairly to present the full range of views on each side. But it\x92s highly doubtful that Tony Blair, who flew off to give secret reassurances to Rupert Murdoch before the 1997 election, will place the interests of democracy above the \x93freedom\x94 of right-wing media mega-corporations to undermine it.

    Comment by Michael McCarthy — 2 Dec 2004 on 10:30 am | Link

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