Here comes the EU constitution that "isn't" - a con by any other name...

This - mainly from the Telegraph - is a fair summary of what is likely to occur this week and the implications of any deal. A very few commentators are out on a limb in denial that it matters. In essence the ‘summit’ or Council meeting will agree the guidelines for an Intergovernmental conference which the German want to see starting work next month with an agreed treaty ready as early as October. Strictly speaking - if you are a real ‘nit-picker’ - nothing substantive will be agreed this week. But if a degree of consensus is reached this week it will powerfully influence the outcome of the IGC. To gainsay that is to be in denial. A few extracts from other papers to illustrate the general consensus. To dismiss this consensus as ”drivel” as one blog has done is a sad comment on that blog. Christina Speight. ============================= SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 17/6/07 1. LEADING ARTICLE Our will be done The European con goes on. In spite of decisive rejection by the electorates of two of the countries who voted on it (and most were not given the chance to express a view), Europhile officials have decided to adopt the European constitution anyway. A leaked document signed by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is unequivocal. The "new" constitution will be exactly the same as the old one. The only difference is that, to get around those inconvenient electorates, it will be called a "treaty". Mrs Merkel insists that, without the constitution, the EU will be "unable to deliver". It seems not to have crossed her mind that many of the people of Europe do not wish the EU to go on "delivering", at least in its present form. That is why there is so much frustration with so many of the EU's policies, from the waste and fraud involved in the common agricultural policy, and the amount of money consumed by the bureaucracy in Strasbourg and Brussels, to the thousands of pointless regulations it imposes. Responsiveness to electorates has never been one of the EU's strong points, and its officials are not going to start changing the habits of a lifetime now. In spite of Tony Blair's claim that he won't sign up to the new constitution if it crosses his "red lines", the Eurocrats are already concocting their usual deception: the pretence that there is "nothing new" in the new document, when in reality it changes the whole balance between individual nations and the EU. The voters of Britain will not be fooled by this charade. Whether they have the chance to express their will depends on whether Gordon Brown, the new prime minister, is prepared to expose the Eurocrats' blatant con trick by allowing a referendum in Britain. Intense pressure will be brought to bear on him not to do so. It will be a measure of his stature if he resists it. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 2. Citizen Gordon cannot deny us a referendum [shortened] By Matthew d'Ancona All of which brings me to Europe. On Thursday, Tony Blair travels to Brussels for his swansong EU summit. No, really: this is actually it. The PM has been saying goodbye since last September, on a farewell tour taking in Manchester, Sedgefield, Baghdad, Washington, the G8 summit and his speech to Reuters about the media last week (less of a farewell to his feral friends in the press, to be honest, than a "sod the lot of you"). But, assuming that Mr Blair does not actually seize hostages and board himself up in Number 10 ("You'll never take me alive, copper!"), his Brussels appearance will be his last major official outing before he tenders his resignation to the Queen in 10 days' time. I understand that Mr Blair and his successor have been talking at least twice a day about the summit, and the revival of the EU constitutional treaty that will be at its heart. "If only they could have worked like that for the last 10 years," one rueful official said to me. Well, indeed. How ironic that the long-promised "stable and orderly transition" has finally been triggered by Europe, of all things. As the finale to the German presidency, Angela Merkel is keen to sign off the basis of an agreement which can be sealed by the end of the year. Mr Brown's team believes that a deal is within their grasp that is better for Britain than the compromise to which Mr Blair signed up in June 2004: a treaty that was machine-gunned by the French and Dutch "No" votes two years ago, but, like Rasputin, seems impossible to kill off. There are three areas where the Brownites believe they can, and must, secure victory. First, the Charter of Fundamental Rights agreed at Nice in 2000, which enshrines a giddying range of social, political and civil entitlements, must not be made legally binding, formally or by the back door. Second, there can be no surrender of the national veto on crime, justice and home affairs. Ironically, Nicolas Sarkozy is a fan of majority voting in this area because he is fed up, he has told Mr Brown, of "Scandinavian" countries obstructing tough, EU-wide measures. But the Chancellor is not persuaded. Third, the Brown transition team will accept no further movement towards QMV on social security. In a truly bizarre final twist to the Blair-Brown saga, the PM will effectively be acting as delegate for his own Chancellor this week. Mr Blair's explicit hope is to broker a "lowest common denominator" deal that is so riddled with UK-friendly clauses and opt-outs that a referendum is not necessary, and that parliamentary ratification proves to be politically sufficient. To which one can only say: bonne chance. Having conceded the need for a referendum on the original treaty in April 2004 ("let the issue be put and let the battle be joined"), Mr Blair knows the scale of the task. In the words of one of his closest allies, the PM's challenge is "fantastically difficult" and a lot will depend on "whites of the eyes stuff" in Brussels. Can Mr Blair really persuade his EU counterparts to concoct a deal that is so advantageous to Britain that the calls for a referendum subside? You be the judge. Stuck at home for now, Mr Brown tells colleagues that there is a "lot more water to go under this bridge", and that it is too early to say what, if any deal, will emerge from this week's summit and any Inter-Governmental Conference that follows. But the water may flow rather faster than the incoming prime minister would wish. Sarkozy and Merkel want a deal, and, since the new French President is adamant that there will be no referendum, there is no chance that France will get Britain off the hook as it did in 2005. Huge pressure will be brought to bear on recalcitrant nations like Poland and the Czech Republic. Before too long, prime minister Brown could find himself facing a ghastly choice: veto the final deal, or face a referendum he can hardly expect to win. Until recently, the Chancellor's aides hoped that the calls for a plebiscite this time round would be more muted. Mr Cameron, they calculated, would not want to focus his energies on Europe, one of the issues he wanted his party to move away from to signify that it had changed. But the shift of emphasis was never an outright ban. And, in the wake of the grammar schools debacle, the Tory leader is happy to throw some red meat to his querulous MPs. William Hague's demands for a referendum have been quite unambiguous, and have already been amplified in the echo chamber of the Eurosceptic press. So here's the rub: how can prime minister Brown, tribune of the people, lover of "citizens' juries", chronicler of the voters' passions, stand at the Dispatch Box and deny the electorate its say over the forthcoming treaty? How can he deny a say to the biggest "citizens' jury" of the lot? The answer, of course, is that he can't. --------------------------------- * Matthew d'Ancona is Editor of The Spectator =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- 3. A con for Europe By Patrick Hennessy The EU's political leaders are determined to ram through a constitution for Brussels this week, whether the voters want one or not. It could turn out to be Gordon Brown's worst nightmare How do you solve a problem like Sarkozy? Some of Britain's finest diplomatic brains are this weekend engaged on the tricky problem of staging a dinner à trois between three of Europe's most powerful men -Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, the newly elected French president. The meal - an appetiser before this week's crucial European Union summit, where leaders hope to agree the successor to the EU's controversial, derailed constitution - is a constantly shifting feast as diary clashes test the patience of its organisers. The original plan was to use the private dining-room on the first floor of 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, only for Mr Sarkozy to send a message saying that Tuesday was no longer convenient. Monday at Chequers, the Prime Minister's Buckinghamshire retreat, was the next suggestion, only for this to be ruled out in turn. The exact venue and timing are still being negotiated. Such organisational difficulties are a mere taster of what is to come on Thursday when the focus shifts to the imposing Justus Lipsius building in central Brussels, the scene of the summit, which is scheduled to last two days but may well stretch into next weekend. Three years ago, almost to the day, British and Irish diplomats drank pints of Guinness, in the nearby Kitty O'Shea's pub, to toast the signing of the original constitution. Their celebrations were to prove premature, as "No" votes a year later in referendums in France and the Netherlands saw the deal kicked into the long grass. The constitution, however, lived to fight another day. The new treaty that will be negotiated this week will, Eurosceptics fear, be a remarkably similar beast. It will contain plans for a "permanent" EU president, serving a two-and-half-year term (a post earmarked by Mr Sarkozy for Mr Blair, although Downing Street has denied he is interested) as well as a new EU "foreign minister", giving the union a single voice on key diplomatic bodies such as the United Nations. Proposed changes to the EU's hyper-complex voting system will, according to the Open Europe think tank, reduce Britain's ability to block unpopular new laws by about 30 per cent, as well as threatening the UK's opt-out from measures such as the working time directive. It is also likely to contain a version of the constitution's single most contentious proposal, the charter of fundamental rights, although whether this will become legally binding or not is the subject of intense negotiation. The treaty is largely the brainchild of Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrat German Chancellor. Last week, a leaked letter from her effectively acknowledged that it would simply be a rebranded version of the constitution, enraging sceptical opinion across Europe. The problem for Britain, and particularly for Mr Brown, is that once again it will be squaring up to a powerful alliance of France and Germany, who are determined to do a deal, however much the timetable slips. One British diplomat close to the negotiations told The Sunday Telegraph this weekend: "Paris and Berlin simply see this as unfinished business - tidying up loose ends. They think it's something they've got to get done. They don't see the spectre of Eurosceptics, both in parliament and in the media, looming at their shoulders." Where does this leave the British Government? More than three years ago, Mr Blair, in the run-up to the signing of the constitution, promised a referendum on its contents. "Let the people have the final say," he declared. Last Friday, Mr Blair's official spokesman made Britain's position clear this time round. The treaty would be an "amending" document and thus there was no need for a public vote, despite calls for one from David Cameron, the entire Conservative Party, and many Labour backbenchers. Instead, Britain would protect its "red-line" positions. The treaty must do nothing to threaten labour and social security laws, or affect the country's common law, police and judicial system. Foreign and defence policy, including Britain's Security Council seat, would also be off limits. Predictably, this did not satisfy the Government's opponents. Timothy Kirkhope, the Tory leader in the European parliament, said: "We need a referendum, not only on the Europe we want to see, but on the kind of Europe we don't want to see." For Mr Brown, who will not be present at the summit, a diplomatic row over Europe represents the worst possible start to his prime ministerial career. He is gripped by a nagging suspicion that before walking off into the sunset Mr Blair will sign a deal this week that Mr Brown will be unable to sell to voters. If forced to hold a referendum, possibly for next spring, he would almost certainly lose it - giving the Conservatives an ideal springboard for a future general election campaign. Both Downing Street and Mr Brown's team - publicly at least - insist they are "on the same page" as far as the treaty is concerned. The strange ménage à trois to be played out with Mr Sarkozy this week is meant to show this. A brief look back at the pair's history on Europe, however, suggests very strongly that, if this is true, it is the first time they have been on the same book, let alone page. The offstage noises being made by some very senior Blairite ministers also cast doubt on such an interpretation. Mr Brown and Mr Blair, who will leave Downing Street for the last time next week, have constantly clashed on European issues. Mr Blair sees the Chancellor, rightly, as the biggest wrecker of his dream of ending Britain's European isolation for good by joining the euro. And, just 18 months ago, the pair were involved in a bitter dispute when Treasury insiders blamed the Prime Minister for surrendering £1 billion a year from Britain's EU budget rebate. "The problem is," one Labour MP said last night, "how can you trust Tony, just days before he goes, not to just sign up late on Friday night to something that Gordon would find totally unacceptable? Gordon won't be there. He wouldn't be human if he didn't have such fears." How has Mr Brown, the supreme political strategist, found himself in such a dilemma? At least two basic errors can be pinpointed. First, his team for some reason seems to have thought that the Eurosceptic press would be less virulent this time round than in 2004. This has not been the case. Secondly, Brownites appear to have convinced themselves that the Conservatives, who still bear the scars of years of civil war over Europe, would, under David Cameron, be reluctant to call for a referendum. In fact, Mr Cameron, reeling from a sustained attack from his party's Right wing over grammar schools, leapt on the issue in order to throw some red meat to Tory traditionalists. Any treaty that transferred powers to Brussels, the Conservative leader declared to The Sunday Telegraph last weekend, must be voted on by the British people. Mr Blair's remaining band of aides is, at the very least, under no illusion how difficult it will be to "sell" a treaty containing large chunks of the rejected constitution to a sceptical British public without promising a referendum. One senior official close to the Prime Minister claimed that Mr Blair faced a "diabolically difficult job" this week and likened the task ahead to the tortuous and fragile negotiations leading up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. "The PM will need all his persuasive powers," the official admitted, describing the only outcome that had any chance of success as being a deal with "an explosion of opt-outs and sub-clauses" designed to protect Britain's position. Mr Brown's camp this weekend, meanwhile, was forced on to the defensive, making unconvincing-sounding noises about how Poland, another nation strongly opposed to many Treaty proposals, particularly voting changes, might "torpedo the whole thing", which would be much to his relief. Despite Britain's insistence that its "red-line" issues would not be breached, the Government's refusal to offer a referendum renders it liable to the charge that it is determined to railroad through highly unpopular changes without giving the public any say at all. This is a charge being aimed at the political elites across the continent. And it should not be underestimated how important a deal is for the leaders of both France and Germany. In France, despite the referendum result, kick-starting the EU constitution in a so-called "mini-treaty" was one of the central planks of Mr Sarkozy's presidential campaign. He is anxious to put France back in the driving seat in Brussels and his official portrait, which hangs in all town halls and official buildings across France, shows him with both the Tricolore and the European Union flag. Whatever sort of treaty or revised constitution he and other European leaders cobble together, it will be voted on by the French parliament and not the people. Approval will be a shoo-in, given that Mr Sarkozy's right-of-centre party will almost certainly win a massive majority in today's parliamentary elections. Jean-Paul Le Marec, of the European Left Group at the European Parliament, accused Mr Sarkozy and Mrs Merkel of trying to "keep the content but change the packaging" of the constitution that French voters had renounced in 2005. "An intense communication campaign, not to mention propaganda, is taking place to sway the most reticent populations and governments," he argued. In Germany, meanwhile, the stakes for Mrs Merkel could scarcely be higher. Her very future as Chancellor is likely to hinge on the outcome of the summit. If she wins an acceptable deal it will crown a string of important German foreign policy victories since she took office and put her in a key position to remain in power after the country's 2009 election. Should she fail, Mrs Merkel's recently acquired reputation as queen of international diplomacy, which she burnished as host of the recent G8 summit in Heiligendamm, will be badly dented and could mark the beginning of a tough uphill struggle to remain in the top job. Mrs Merkel makes little secret of her ambitions for Europe, telling Der Spiegel magazine last week: "As far as I am concerned, there is no alternative to the road to European unification." Her enthusiasm for a European constitution is shared by a majority of Germans, two-thirds of whom support the constitution. Germany has also been involved in the frantic round of "shuttle diplomacy" aimed at winning round Poland's President, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother Jaroslaw, the Prime Minister. The dispute between Berlin and Warsaw may be focused on the arcane issue of EU voting rights, but any diplomatic row between Germany and Poland is highly toxic for obvious historical reasons. The twins indicated that they were ready to let the summit collapse if Germany did not accede to their demands. If they do they could simultaneously derail Mrs Merkel's career and throw a lifeline to Mr Brown's incoming Premiership. But the smart money this weekend was on the British Chancellor, and not the German one, ending up the loser. ------------------------------------------ € Additional reporting: Kim Willsher in Paris, Tony Paterson in Berlin and Justin Stares in Brussels ============================= OTHER COMMENT - The Observer thinks that Blair will get agreement to an opt-out for Britain from the Charter of Human Rights The Sunday Times in contrast claims that Blair will “do a deal” over the Charter of Human Rights. Of course he can’t finalise a deal but he could pave the way for one, by telling the other side where his sticking point is. The paper also reports on a YouGov poll based on a potential referendumm question on a new treaty. This shows 21% in favoour, 43% against and 33% ‘don’t knows’ (3% would not vote).


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Matthew 8:14

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