The EU's constitutional convention must take a tough line on small countries that fail to ratify treaty changesby Charles Grant / January 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2003 issue of Prospect Magazine
The convention on the future of Europe, meeting under the chairmanship of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, is likely to agree on a new constitution for Europe. The EU’s governments will adopt this text, with amendments, in 2004. Most of the key issues have already been discussed at length. But so far almost nothing has been said about the most sensitive question: what to do with countries that cannot ratify treaty changes. To its credit, the commission at least mentioned the problem, in its December submission to the convention.
The Irish voted “yes” to the Nice treaty in October, which means that it becomes law throughout the EU. But if they had voted “no,” as they did in their first referendum in June 2001, it would have become null-not just for the 3.9m Irish but also for the other 375m people in the EU. And that would probably have delayed enlargement for the 75m people whose countries are planning to join the EU in 2004. In 1992, the Danes nearly stopped the EU in its tracks by voting “no” to the Maastricht treaty; that treaty could not become law until they had changed their mind in a second referendum a year later.
Assuming that the current round of enlargement is completed on time, with ten new members joining in 2004, the ratification of new treaties will become an even more daunting prospect. What if the 400,000 Maltese or the 1.4m Estonians vote “no” to the treaty that comes out of the convention and the 2004 intergovernmental conference? Must other Europeans abandon their plans for reforms that are designed to make the union more democratic and efficient, just because one small country does not like them?
Federalists have, from time to time, suggested that if a majority of the member states ratifies a new treaty, it should enter into force and the minority must grin and bear it. However, it is wishful thinking to suppose that a country whose parliament or people had voted “no” to a new treaty-even one signed by its gov…