The dust is settling on last week's referendum results and we're in a position to take stock.
Ten countries have voted in favour (52% of the EU population), and many others have indicated their intention to continue their ratification procedures. France and the Netherlands have said no.
So we're likely to be in a situation where the constitutional treaty has the support of a majority of member states, but not the necessary unanimity. What is to be done in this situation?
Well, it's essential that the European Council meeting next week agrees collectively on a way forward acceptable to all member states. Unless they do, controversy, division and gradual dissipation of the whole process will cause massive damage to the European Union.
When considering the options, there are two implausible extremes:
- The whole constitutional treaty is definitively abandoned as a ‘nice idea’ that unfortunately didn’t get sufficient support and should now be forgotten. This is implausible because the reasons which gave rise to the drafting of the Constitution remain on the table: the need for an effective EU post-enlargement, for a better functioning institutional system, for a greater capacity to deliver policies, and for greater democratic accountability and transparency. Most member states wish to continue the reform process.
- All countries continue to ratify, and that the two (or, by then, perhaps more) that have rejected the constitution be asked to vote again in light of its acceptance by the majority. This strategy has three problems:
- it runs the risk of further “no”s additional to the French and Dutch results;
- it is politically very difficult to ask countries who have rejected to vote again on exactly the same text without further ado;
- it gives the impression of forcing the Constitution through without listening to people’s objections and forcing countries to keep on voting until they give the ‘right’ result.
Firstly, the European Council could call for a pause for reflection in the ratification process. Member states due to ratify in the next few months could continue to do so if they wish.
Secondly, member states with reservations – namely, the two who have rejected and any other member state that considers it may have difficulties in securing ratification – could be given time to evaluate their position and make proposals on how they see the way forward.
A new Convention could then be convened for a serious and wide-ranging debate. Its role would be to re-examine the text of the constitutional treaty and submit a new proposal – either a new draft, or the same draft with interpretations, clarifications or additions. It could be that the Convention wishes to give particular consideration to part III, which was never discussed properly in the previous Convention.
The advantage of re-convening a Convention is that this gives time and space (and a place!) for further reflection. It means that the “pause for reflection” will not be an indefinite postponement but will actually generate reflection and have a focal point for it to reach conclusions.
An IGC alone would not be good enough: it would give the impression of returning to the old ways of secretive, diplomatic negotiations. A public and pluralist Convention, with greater input from civil society, would be much more helpful in this respect, and it would certainly generate far more interest than did the previous Convention.
No one should be under any illusions that this will not take time. But a solution acceptable to all member states, that takes account of the concerns of those who voted no as well as those who support the constitutional treaty as it stands, must be found.