Will There Be A Constitution?
With Brussels behind me for this time there might be reason to reflect somewhat on the eternal European constitutional issue.
What to do with the failed Constitutional Treaty?
Discussions at the summit in the last few days did not seem to throw too much light on the subject. The famous "period for reflection" will continue.
But perhaps there is still some contours of what will happen further on starting to emerge in the general mist.
That the old Constitutional Treaty is dead is obvious to everyone although officially acknowledged by few. That it was recently ratified by Finland and Estonia was nice, but little more than that. It was like paying homage to the heroes of the past.
It's next year that we will start to see some movement on the issue.
First there will be some sort of political declaration at a special summit in Berlin on March 25 in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. That will indeed be a proper occasion to review the accomplishments of the past half century, but can hardly avoid looking somewhat into the future as well.
Then it will be for the meeting of the European Council in June to start to take decisions on how to proceed. This will be under the German presidency, and after the French elections.
And what did emerge out of the discussions in Brussels in the last few days is that what will be initiated then is supposed to be brought to some sort of conclusion in the second half of 2008. That happens to be under a French presidency of the European Union.
So one can forsee a mini-convention starting in the later part of 2007 and winding up by the summer of 2008. And I'm rather convinced that this will then produce a rather slimmed down document that might be called something like Treaty of Institutional Reform.
The C-word will be gone. And it will be given a more proper designation. Institutional reform is what it is really all about. In substance, I would expect it to differ little from these parts of the much larger Constitutional Treaty.
This treaty will then go for ratification during 2009. A smart idea would be to treat the elections to the European Parliament in June of that year as a de facto referendum on it. Voters could vote for candidates supporting the treaty or for candidates opposing it. It might even breath more life into the debate leading to these elections.
An uncertain factor would be the extent a deal in mid-2008 on these issues would be linked to the review of the European Union budget foreseen to be launched in 2008/2009.
There could be arguments for bringing the issues together in a "big deal", but there are equally compelling arguments for keeping them separate, with the budget issues then in focus during the Czech and Swedish presidencies in 2009.
We'll have to wait and see. But the fog might soon start to lift. At least somewhat.