Thursday, May 19, 2005

A little more on the EU Constitution

With their referendum only ten days away, and with the "no" campaign sustaining a narrow lead in the opinion polls, the French government has been wheeling out some international big guns in order to boost the "yes" vote. Leading left-wing politicians from around half a dozen countries were enlisted to speak in favour of the constitution, with the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder begging the French "from the bottom of my heart" not to reject it, and calling on them to face up to their "responsibilities" (I wonder how many voters this kind of rhetoric will swing - given, after all, that the idea that a no vote is irresponsible is one of the arguments that people seem to have objected to). Interestingly, Tony Blair was not invited to give his opinion - he is seen by the French left as a vote-loser; a position to which many on the UK left seem to be moving towards.

Also interesting - if not particularly surprising - is the apparently widespread belief amongst Europe's leaders that a French "no" will kill the treaty altogether - to the point at which few if any of the scheduled referenda will go ahead if France rejects the constitution. This casts a little doubt on Blair's previous insistence that the UK would go to the people on this issue regardless of what happened abroad - although he has already begun to nuance this position, stating recently that there would be a referendum "if there was still a treaty". The European consensus seems to be that a French "no" would effectively mean no treaty, thus no UK referendum.

One other noteworthy point is that the debate over the UK's budget rebate from the EU has surfaced again, with many foreign leaders calling for it to be reduced or scrapped altogether. Chirac has been at the forefront of such calls. This does not seem to me to be the most opportune moment politically to be making such claims; for, if France does vote yes in ten days time, the UK referendum will go ahead - and the last thing that Blair needs is an apparently strong, multinational consensus against the retention of the rebate, which is a matter of considerable political significance in Britain. Chirac's stance on this may help sway some voters in France, but, if he maintains it after a vote in favour of the constitution, it will not play well in the UK referendum campaign to say the least. And this is one vote in which Blair will need all the help he can get, as he will require significantly more than the 35% of the vote that he managed to secure in the recent election if he is to have any chance of success...

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