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[31/05/2005] Irish Times: Sounding the death knell for the EU Federation

Irish Times, Dublin ... Tuesday 31 May 2005


The EU integration project is unlikely to recover from the French vote and
without a State behind it, the euro cannot survive, writes Anthony Coughlan

* * *

The French people's rejection of the proposed EU Constitution is a blow for
democracy  in France and and the whole of Europe. It should open the way to
a saner, more rational way  of organising our  continent.

The reason is that the new EU treaty was an attempt to give the
constitutional  form of a supranational Federal State to the 25 countries
of the present  EU.

One can only be a citizen of a State.  This Constitution aimed to make us
real citizens of a real EU Federation for the first time, such that we
would owe this new entity thereafter the prime duty of citizenship,
namely,  our obedience and loyalty. To attempt to make the citizens of 25
to 30 countries with their different  languages and traditions  into real
citizens of one country called Europe, when there is no such thing as a
single European people except statistically, has never been realistic.

Yet to create such a European Federation  has been the central  aim of the
European Movement since Jean Monnet and  Robert  Schuman  in the 1950s.

Each successive  European treaty - Rome 1957, the Single European Act 1987,
Maastricht 1992, Amsterdam 1998, Nice 2003 -  has been "sold" to citizens
as being necessary for jobs and growth, but has been politically designed
to lead  to ever closer  integration, a  shift of  ever more power from
Nation States to the supranational Brussels institutions,  and a continual
erosion  of the national democracy and political independence of the
different peoples of Europe's  many countries.  This has been "the great
deception" of the EU integration project.

This process was meant to culminate in this EU Constitution, which would
have clamped a rigid politico-economic straitjacket on 25 or more different
countries.  As people found out more about it,and they had a thorough
debate on it in France, they have revolted  at its implications.

That the French people who have been at the heart of the EU integration
process for so long should reject it in this way is a shattering blow to
the project, from which it  is unlikely to recover.  France's vote will
surely  come to be seen as an historical watershed.

One long-term effect is likely to be on the euro. A central aim of the
supranational Federation envisaged by the EU Constitution was to provide a
political counterpart for a single European currency.  What we have at
present is 12 countries, 12 Governments, 12 budgets and 12 tax policies,
all  using the same euro.  Yet  without one State behind it, the euro
cannot survive in the long run.

Countries need maximum flexibility, not rigidity, in the modern world.
The euro-currency has been a political  project from the beginning, aimed
at  reconciling France to German reunification,but  using economic means
that are quite inappropriate for this purpose.

Germany and France's high unemployment rate  is  significantly due to the
euro.  The euro imposes  a one-size-fits-all interest  rate policy  on
quite different economies, and an inflexible  exchange rate  that prevents
States restoring their competitiveness by changing their currency's value.

France's  death-blow to the Constitution means an EU Federation is now
unlikely  to come into being as a political counterpart to the euro.

.. It is  untrue  to say that there is some legal obligation on the
Netherlands or any other EU country to proceed with ratifying the EU
Constitution, despite France's rejection.  There is no such obligation.
Where could it come from? There is a political Declaration annexed to the
"Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe"  which says   say that if
four-fifths of States do not ratify it, they will meet to discuss what to

This is not the same as an obligation on States to proceed with
ratification either individually  or collectively  if  one country says
No.  The  decision of Ireland or other EU States to proceed with
ratification as if a French or Dutch No could be reversed or over-ruled at
a later date,  would be a political  matter, but not a legal imperative.
The political  rationale for such a course would be that the Irish
Government  envisaged engaging in an act  of collective  pressure and
bullying  vis-a-vis France, similar to what  Irish citizens  had to put up
with when they voted No to Nice in 2001. The French however are likely  to
prove less malleable than we were.

The two possible future for our European continent are either  integration
into a supranational  State Federation or cooperation  among  States on the
basis of the balance of power and influence between them.

The balance of power is fine as long as it stays balanced, which is the art
of statecraft.   Europe of the balance of power is now  reasserting itself
again. That  great political realist, France's Charles De Gaulle, who once
said that "Europe is a Europe of the Nations and the States or it is
nothing", would not have been surprised.

*   *   *

Anthony  Coughlan is Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Social Policy at Trinity
College Dublin  and Secretary,  The National Platform EU Research and
Information Centre


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