- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Discussing the European Union’s failed constitution in Vienna this weekend, Europe’s foreign ministers were disarmingly candid. They acknowledged that they failed to convince a majority of voters in France, the Netherlands and probably elsewhere that a European Union constitution is a good idea. They acknowledged that they cannot attempt to revive the constitution at this point since it is moribund. And then they acknowledged something more troubling: that they consider the above facts to be more a problem of marketing than a reason to scuttle the idea.

The ministers said that they still plan to have a constitution. They’ll simply avoid the “C” word from here on. “Everybody agrees it was a mistake to call it a constitution, so that would be a very sensible change if that were needed,” Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja told Reuters. The leading candidate now to replace the word “constitution” is “basic law,” which, tellingly, is the term Germany uses for its own constitution.

“We in Germany live with a Basic Law which does not carry the title ‘constitution’ but has the same legal quality. It’s a possible starting point,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose views carry added weight because Germany will assume the EU presidency next year, said to Reuters. The thinking seems to be that European publics’ “No” votes are really just an obstacle to circumnavigate with better marketing and more deft methods.

Beyond its haughtiness, that judgment stands on shaky factual grounds. As UPI’s Martin Walker pointed out Monday, anti-constitution opinion in Europe has not waned and appears to have consolidated somewhat in the places that voted “No” last year. In France in 2005, 54.5 percent of voters said they would vote “No”; this year it is 55.5 percent. In the Netherlands, the “No” tally has risen to 65 percent over last year’s 61.5.

The democratic thing to do would be to abandon the idea. Perhaps that’s not how it works in Europe anymore and perhaps not all European voters will regard the above remarks by Messrs. Tuomioja and Steinmeier as contemptuous. But from this side of the Atlantic, all this certainly looks like blatant disregard of the will of the people in at least a few important member countries. If European ministers intend to create a constitution by stealth, they will be building something those member constituencies clearly oppose.

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