The EU Constitution is back in all but name
Last month, I was in the audience for a speech in Potsdam by Angela Merkel’s right hand man, Thomas de Maiziere, the Chief of the Chancellor’s Office and Federal Minister of Special Affairs.
De Maiziere was applauding the content of the EU Constitution, whilst criticising moves made more than two years ago to call it a constitution. “You don’t name the baby until after it’s born,” he said to laughter from most of those assembled, but to consternation from me and a few others present. The implication was clear – the baby was a great thing, but shouldn’t have been called “constitution” until after it had been ratified.
Two weeks ago, the German Government issued a press release after meeting with heads of government of Sweden, Ireland and Belgium, making clear that they wanted the existing treaty, despite that fact it was rejected by French and Dutch voters just two years ago – “the substance of the existing treaty should be retained,” the Germans are saying. It seems that the Germans have persuaded the Poles and the Czechs to drop most of their objections, in return for the EU adopting a tougher stance against Russia, most notably at the recent EU-Russia summit in Samarra.
Whilst Angela Merkel has been rallying support and talking with her counterparts, our own Government has been dithering. The handover from Blair to Brown could hardly have come at a worse time. Britain is losing the allies we should have had – Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, and so on – because our Government is paralysed, and has been too busy on legacy tours or taking part in fake hustings events for the Labour Party.
The Government has been incredibly evasive. Last week my colleague Bill Cash asked Margaret Beckett to finally come clean on what discussions she had had with Blair and Brown on the Constitution. Her reply was brief, even by new Labour standards: “All these issues are discussed among all members of the Government at all times”.The Prime Minister said after the French and Dutch votes that
“what you can’t do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and then you just bring it back with a few amendments and say we will have another go”?
Yet this appears to be exactly what is in store under Gordon Brown. David Cameron meanwhile has been firm in his commitment to having a referendum before any treaty is signed under whatever name which transfers more powers to Brussels.
This is likely to be at the centre of politics in the coming week, and will help define how the Cameron v Brown contest will shape up. Let us hope that David Cameron will win, and we will have a referendum on the EU Constitution, even if the baby hasn’t yet been given the name.
Greg Hands is MP for Hammersmith & Fulham