Angela Merkel's rambling and turgid speech yesterday seems to have "officially" relaunched the discussions on the Constitution. The speech listed a whole bunch of different challenges - relations with Africa, the US, Russia, all of which inevitably led her making to the clunking argument that:
"We can only tackle these challenges by joining forces. We must act as one. That is precisely why, for a European foreign policy, we need a European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs – so that we can practise what we preach. That is another reason for the constitutional treaty."
In fairness. Merkel did say two sensible things ( it's hard not to in a speech of nearly 4,000 words).
One was about scrapping legislation which was not completed at the end of a European Parliamentary term, as in most member states. Obviously, having a cull of stalled regulation once every five years wouldn't make any meaningful impact in terms of reducinging over-regulation. But it would at least end the ludicrous situation where newly elected MEPs simply plod on with the legislation their predecissors were working on (so why bother with elections at all?) She also called for single market style measures between the US and EU - which would be nice but is rather unlikely to be agreed by certain ameriphobic member states.
The reopening of the Constitution as an issue has prompted rather different reactions around Europe - and indeed different bits of the UK Government.
Segolene Royal immediately said that she would promise a referendum on whatever emerged from the process. “I want the French people to be consulted once again in a referendum in 2009.” The FT reports that her comments were "greeted with dismay" in London. We'll bet.
The UK Government's official response was rather more tortuous. For example Geoff Hoon aid on Newsnight that:
“We’ve always made it clear that if there are important constitutional principles we will hold a referendum. We said the same about the Constitutional Treaty – it contained significant constitutional change, we believe it should require the consent of the British people through a referendum. On the other hand no previous Government – no Conservative Government – has ever held a referendum on some far reaching changes in the European treaties: the
Translation: "I have part weasel DNA, and plan to sneak through anything we can possibly get away with."
Meanwhile "unnamed" UK sources are busy saying all kinds of things in the papers. The FT reports that:
A senior British official said referenda were “not in Europe’s interest”, and suggested London would not be unhappy if the constitutional impasse continued. “Europe is not broken,” the official said. “We are taking decisions. You can push through something major like climate change and energy reform with the existing structure.”
Question: So why haven't you got the guts to say so in public?
Meanwhile Peter Mandelson is holding a massive third-way wonkathon over in the City (at which Blair is due to speak). His thinktank Policy Network have launched an absurd "pro-European declaration" for people to sign up to.
He has a piece in the Guardian and popped up on the today programme too with the amzing claim that he never wanted the EU Constitution in the first place:
I don’t think we ever needed such a new grand constitution for Europe in the first place. We needed a set of efficiency changes and we frankly paid the price of appearing to overbid in what we put forward.
Ah - no need to worry then. Just some "efficiency changes" on the way.