- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

The soaring ideals behind the pan-European super-state are running into an obstacle — the will of the people. That could well foil, attempts to ratify a new constitution for the European Union.

In Britain, recent polls show that about 65 percent of the population is prepared to vote against ratifying the EU constitution. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has strongly endorsed the document, is quite aware of that sentiment and will delay, possibly until 2006, a national referendum on the issue.

Mr. Blair’s government is trying to sell the referendum by claiming that a vote against the constitution would in effect leave Britain outside of the European Union. Such a scenario is very unlikely, though. Other countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, could well vote against the constitution in national referendums before Britons have a chance to. That could be just what Mr. Blair had in mind by delaying the vote. Since the EU constitution can only be approved by unanimity, a single rejection would get Mr. Blair off the hook entirely.

If Britain emerged as the sole challenger, a number of countries would favor a renegotiation of the text, rather than leaving Britain out of the European Union. Why? Poland, Spain and Italy (not to mention the United States) want to see a counterweight to German-French dominance of the alliance. This would become particularly important if a provision in the draft constitution, which would give countries voting weight in proportion to their populations, is ultimately approved. France and Germany would accumulate even greater representation, causing greater disgruntlement among smaller nations.

The constitution would centralize power in Brussels by allowing certain policies and decisions to be approved by simple majorities, rather than unanimity. Some critics argue that if the constitution is approved, the union would become a kind of super-state, with its own flag, president, foreign minister, parliament and supreme court. Clearly, the approval of the document would streamline EU decision-making, and would cause the 25 member countries of the enlarged union to give up sovereignty in important areas. Lobbying by Britain has preserved members’ veto over fiscal policy, defense and foreign affairs. National vetoes would be phased out, though, in law enforcement, education and some macroeconomic matters.

Unsurprisingly, the draft constitution has wide support in France. There is a looming problem, though, with that country’s EUtopic vision. If voting weight is to be decided by population, then Turkey, which in the next few years could become the union’s most populous nation, would be the most influential member. The accession of Turkey into the union is particularly unpopular in France.

In fact, given the realities in Britain and elsewhere, EU bureaucrats may have to significantly downscale their lofty plans for the European superstate.

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