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[21/01/2005] They don’t like the EU Constitution? Quick, send in the force

THE TIMES, London,  Friday 21 January 2005:  World News

They don't like the EU Constitution? Quick, send in the force

By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent

THE European Parliament is to establish a "rapid reaction force" to address
what it considers to be unfair criticism of the European constitution in any
EU member state.

The move has angered opponents of the proposed constitution, who say that
the rapid reaction force is made up entirely of MEPs who support the
constitution but is funded by taxpayers' money. One leading Eurosceptic MEP
said that the move was reminiscent of totalitarianism.

Jens Peter Bonde, a Danish Eurosceptic MEP, said: "It is a good idea to have
a rapid reaction force, but you must have both sides to clear up real
misunderstandings. You can't have a rapid reaction force with taxpayers'
money and represent only one view - it's a totalitarian tendency."

As part of a campaign by Brussels, to combat Euroscepticism in the Union in
time for a wave of referendums on the constitution, the Parliament has told
its representative office in each country to monitor the press and note
unfair criticism. MEPs will then be asked to write letters to the newspapers
to put the record straight.

The European Parliament is also sending delegations consisting of only
pro-constitution MEPs to parliaments in London and Paris, and last week
spent E375,000 (£260,000) on a pro-constitution rally in Strasbourg.

Richard Corbett, the Labour spokesman for the constitution in the European
Parliament, who helped to set up the new system and who is being paid E2,000
in expenses to promote the constitution, said: "There are a lot of occasions
when people get things totally wrong. We will have a system going to pick
out the stories to respond to."

Jo Leinen, a German Socialist MEP who leads the European Parliament's
Constitutional Affairs Committee, said: "Within three hours, or at least
within the same day, we want to react to lies and distortions about the

There is concern that one or more of the 11 countries holding referendums on
the constitution may cause turmoil by rejecting it. There is a high chance
that Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic will vote "no", with rejections
possible in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Irish Republic.

Each country has different concerns about the constitution. The Germans and
Irish worry that it may lead to the EU becoming a military pact; the French
fear that the EU may become too free-market; and the British worry that the
EU may become a superstate.

The European Commission has set up a special "communications strategy
committee" and is promoting a website to rebut "Euromyths" spread by
British press in the hope of winning the propaganda battle over the next two

Eurosceptic MEPs complain that many of the reaction force's "corrections"
will just be pro-constitution opinions dressed as fact. For example, the
force will leap to defend the constitution if someone says that it will lead
to the creation of an EU president, even though it will indeed lead to the
appointment of a new high-profile and powerful president of the European
Council for two and a half years.

It will also rebut the accusation that the constitution makes EU law supreme
over national law, when national governments have already accepted that fact
as necessary to make the EU work.

The constitution will be the first time that any country has signed a treaty
making EU law supreme over national law, making it almost impossible for
national governments to revoke this principle later.


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